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Working Group to Begin Tackling Monster Mansions in Santa Monica -- Again
By Jorge Casuso
January 8, 2019 -- For the second time in two decades, Santa Monica will begin developing new standards for "monster mansions" when a workimg group is expected to convene its first meeting later this month.
The initial session comes one year after the City Council passed an interim ordinance to reduce the size of single-family homes while it updates its development standards.
The City Planning Department -- which is taking applications through Thursday -- has so far received 14 applications, said Jing Yeo, the City's planning manager.
The group is "meant to be a collection of architects, contractors, community representatives and other design professionals," Yeo said in a letter sent to potential applicants December 20.
These professionals should have "knowledge and experience" working on single family homes" and "can bring creative, open-minded and collaborative contributions to the effort," the letter said.
The working group will help staff "review the current development standards and propose revisions" in order to address community concerns about the "incompatible character and scale" of new homes, he letter said.
The group;'s sessions, which have not yet been scheduled, are not meant to be "big public meetings," Yeo said.
"The idea is to have recommendations we can share in larger public workshops with the larger community," she told the Lookout.
Although the City is seeking design professionals, it also sent letters seeking applicants to the leaders of neighborhood groups, Yeo said.
The idea is to include "residents who have experienced the process" and "neighbors who experience the impact" of large single family homes that are rapidly replacing smaller, 60-year-old bungalows, she said.
The community's reaction to "monster mansions" is similar to the outcry that led to the banning of the mausoleum-like homes that were rapidly rising two decades ago North of Montana.
In August of 1999, the Council approved an emergency ordinance that set stricter design standards in the city's priciest neighborhood ("Council Drives Stake into 'Monster Mansions,'" August 11, 1999).
The move was welcomed by activists who championed the changes, which eventually spread to other residential neighborhoods across the 8.3-square-mile city.
With real estate prices soaring -- a small tear-down North of Montana can fetch more than $3 million -- the issue of "monster mansions" is once again rearing its head.
Between 2013 and 2017, the City issued 184 demolition permits for single family homes and had 33 pending as of January 2018, according to the latest available information.
"As some of the older houses age, they are being increasingly demolished and replaced," Yeo said. "We're seeing this change happen in some pockets of the City."
The interim ordinance approved last January reduces the footprint of new single-family homes by 20 percent and the height limit from 28 feet to 25 feet ("Santa Monica City Council Temporarily Reins in 'Monster Mansions,' January 25, 2018).
In the North of Montana and Sunset Park, the existing maximum footprint of 61 percent was cut to 48 percent, while in the Expo/Pico neighborhood, the amount of coverage allowed was reduced from the 40 percent to 32 percent.
The interim ordinance also limits the size of second-floor decks and balconies to a total of 400 square feet and adjusts the second-story step-backs.
“This interim ordinance is both in direct response to resident concerns about large, speculative new construction and Council’s commitment to preserving the diversity and uniqueness of our residential neighborhoods,” said Mayor Ted Winterer.
Those interested in joining for the working group should call Associate Planner Ross Fehrman or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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