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Santa Monica City Council to Impose Emergency Ban on 'Monster' Mansions

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

January 10, 2018 -- Shuddering under a frenzy of “monster” mansions replacing the tiny homes of earlier eras, the Santa Monica City Council Tuesday ordered preparation of a temporary ban on such construction in single-family neighborhoods.

Voting unanimously, the council asked staff to return in two weeks -- its next meeting -- with an interim zoning ordinance (IZO), “emergency in nature,” that would impose a height limit of less than the current 28 feet for and cut the footprint allowed by 20 percent in new homes in such neighborhoods as Sunset Park and Ocean Park.

It would remain in effect for 45 days.

“We all have a sense of what will happen, what will be done, if we don’t act now,” said Council Member Kevin McKeown.

The IZO would give the City “a chance to reduce the carnage” while it addresses the growing trend to build larger homes, McKeown said.

Santa Monica’s sky-high real estate prices are blamed for the rash of mansions in neighborhoods that prize their quaint Craftsman bungalows and Spanish-style homes built almost a century ago for a growing middle class.

Neighbors repeatedly complain that the new homes -- often the product of speculators -- ignore landscape to build to property line, looming over streets where they are sourly out of character.

“On our block alone (21st St. between Pearl and Ocean Park) there are three such homes recently built by the same developer,” Donald Murchie and Angela de Mott wrote in a letter to the council.

“Trying to contact the builder was like a shell game. All three are nearly identical in design, scale, color, and landscaping (including illegal Mexican feather grass).

"These buildings are much too large in proportion to their respective lot size and, usually occupied by small single families. We see an accelerating tendency for the city to to approve such enormous homes," they wrote.

Murchie and de Mott, who live in one of several two-story homes on their block, say there's "a clear difference between these houses and the developers’ mega-mansions that are overtaking our city, ruining our neighborhood’s character.”

Santa Monica took similar action against "monster" mansions in 1999, when a similar rash of mausoleum-like homes began popping up on the streets North of Montana Avenue.

The emergency ordinance called for larger yards and smaller decks and patios. It encouraged porches, instead of garages, facing the streets and architectural variety which would let more sunlight onto neighboring homes.

Tuesday’s 6-to-0 vote (Council Member Pam O’Connor was absent) came as the council ordered its development priorities for 2018.

An emergency ban in R1 neighborhoods wasn’t at the top of the list originally.


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