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Battle Over 'McMansions' Escalates in Santa Monica as New Standards Head to Council

Bob Kronovetrealty
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By Jorge Casuso

September 12, 2019 -- In the image, a masked burglar who resembles a terrorist is breaking into a home to steal, not the valuables stashed inside, but the value of the home itself.

The postcard -- mailed to Santa Monica homeowners this week -- is part of a campaign more commonly launched during elections.

This time, it's an effort to rally homeowners before the City Council considers proposed revisions to curb the size of homes in Santa Monica's single-family neighborhoods.

Monster Mansion Mailer

"The Santa Monica City Council is reviewing proposed revisions that will AGAIN FURTHER limit how large homes can be built in Santa Monica," the postcard reads.

"Say goodbye to receiving top dollar for your residence if you ever plan on selling your home."

The zoning revisions opposed in the postcard are being championed by Santa Monica homeowners who fear their single-family neighborhoods are being rapidly overtaken by "monster mansions," or "McMansions."

Coast Event Information

The super-sized homes, the say, are increasingly looming over the bungalows and frame houses that once lined the city's residential streets.

Among the concerns listed on the membership forms for Friends of Sunset Park, a predominantly single-family neighborhood, are "development of McMansions everywhere," "losing old homes to McMansions" and "ugly giant home rebuilds."

At its meeting August 7, the Planning Commission recommended updating the current development standards to curb the spread of large buildings.

Associate planner Ross Fehrman said the proposed revisions are meant "to address the size and scale of new construction in relation to existing neighborhood context."

They are also meant to "incentivize the retention of existing homes, and to make the standards more user-friendly."

The proposed revisions would replace the temporary standards adopted by the Council in February 2018 that can be extended only until November 15.

Under the proposed revisions, new one-story homes would cover 50 percent of the lot and new two-story homes would cover 45 percent. Homeowners remodeling their existing home could cover up to 55 percent of their lot.

Proposed single-family parcel coverage
Proposed single-family parcel coverage (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

The proposed standards set a maximum height of 28 feet with no wall height above 23 feet for lots smaller than 20,000 square feet. Homes built on larger lots could have pitched roofs as tall as 38 feet.

The Commission also recommended increasing front and side upper-story stepback areas, eliminating requirements for a garage and allowing parking behind a home's facade.

Opponents of the proposed changes argue the new standards could greatly devalue the price of a home.

In a letter to the Commission, homeowner Michael Medkiff calculates that reducing the lot coverage from 61 percent to 50 percent would remove 825 square feet from the back of a two story home and "destroy" $1 million in the home's value.

"This will reduce the tax valuation base of Santa Monica over time and hurt City services, pensions and long term financial viability to deal with rising sea levels," Medkiff wrote.

Another homeowner said reducing the lot coverage would nix his family's plans to create "a multi-generational household, when our parents retire and our son begins his career.

"Reducing available coverage limits the options for families such as ours that seek to combat the housing crisis with individual initiatives," homeowner John Newman wrote.

Proponents of the changes, which include neighborhood groups in the City's three single-family neighborhoods, say curbing home sizes is a top priority among residents.

A joint survey of 554 residents by NOMA (North of Montana Neighborhood Association), Friends of Sunset Park and Northeast Neighbors found more than two-thirds of those surveyed want the City to preserve older single-family homes.

Nearly three fourths of the residents -- 73 percent -- believe "new construction is too large in proportion to neighboring homes."

In a letter to the Planning Commission, Northeast Neighbors said the large homes are more than unsightly.

"Massive homes that loom over others not only block light and air to immediate neighbors, but they also tend to reduce the tree canopy, directly impacting the air quality and the quality of life for the City," the group wrote.

One correspondent's message to the Planning Commission simply said, "KICK DEVELOPERS OUT..........!!"

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