Published in the Los Angeles Times on September 11, 2005, page K 10.


Mansions? Hey, not in their backyards

By Glenn Roberts Jr., Inman News

Although consumers across the country have a growing appetite for giant new homes, residents in some established communities don't have the stomach for these modern mansions.

The Los Angeles City Council passed a so-called anti-mansionization measure recently for the Sunland-Tujunga area, aimed at combating the construction of massive homes that are out of character with the neighborhood. Other communities are pursuing similar measures.

Earlier this year in Valley Glen, a developer tore down a small existing home and began construction on a 5,400-square-foot home. That didn't sit well with some residents.

"It was the classic citizens' revolt," said Peer Ghent, president of the Valley Glen Neighborhood Assn., an independent homeowners group. The new home, which has five bedrooms and seven bathrooms, alarmed some neighbors and spurred the community to seek new restrictions on home sizes.

Ghent said there are those who like the jumbo houses, but others think they are out of place. The community is dominated by single-story ranch-style homes built in the 1950s.

The Greater Valley Glen Council, a group that reports to the Los Angeles City Council, is proposing new codes that restrict the first story of homes in the community to 60% or less of the total lot size and restrict the second floor to 40% of the lot size. Also, the proposal calls for minimum setback requirements from the property lines and restrictions on second-floor window sizes. It would also set restrictions on second-floor balconies and rooftop decks.

Dorian Alan, a real estate agent with Prudential California in Sherman Oaks and a Valley Glen resident whose husband is the developer behind the controversial big house and other large homes in the community, said the huge residences are fulfilling a demand.

Alan, who markets and sells the houses that her husband develops, said she worries that homeowners won't realize what freedoms they're losing until they try to renovate their own homes. "The next thing somebody knows they will go to remodel their home and find out there are serious restrictions."

Alan said she encourages homeowners to participate in the process involving the proposed ordinance and to educate themselves. "It's easy to say, 'We're creating an anti-mansionization ordinance.' Read the fine print. It's not as cut-and-dried as that."

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the average U.S. house size more than doubled from 1950 to 1999, while the average family size decreased. From 1982 to 2004, the average floor area of new single-family houses grew 40%, from 1,690 square feet to 2,366 square feet.

Charlotte Laws, a member of the Greater Valley Glen Council and a real estate agent for Prudential in Studio City, said she believes the proposed anti-mansionization ordinance is too restrictive. The proposal to restrict the size of the second story compared with a home's first floor seems to be a restriction on architectural style, she said. "In my view, that's taste. Some people like boxy structures."

Laws has been an outspoken opponent of the new proposal, though she said she has a minority viewpoint on the council. As for the giant home that caused the uproar, she said, "I frankly think it's a pretty house."

Her initial reaction to the construction of large houses in her community was negative, she said.

"My gut reaction was, 'I don't like it.' " Then, she said, she took a step back and questioned whether homeowners should have a right to upsize their homes. "I completely changed my mind. I don't like the idea of all these restrictions. If people want restrictions, they should live in a gated community."

The Sunland-Tujunga anti-mansionization ordinance applies to lots of 8,000 square feet or less. Under the new ordinance, property owners can build a home that has a footprint of up to 2,400 square feet, or 40% of the lot size whichever is greater.

Leslie Pollner, deputy chief of staff for Los Angeles City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who represents the community, said: "Our focus has been to protect the rights of property owners while preserving our community's character."

She added, "We were finding that a number of people resented having these huge homes looking directly into their backyard or directly into their house. [The community] has a very rustic rural character, and houses tend to be small, so it's really about trying to preserve the feeling of the community."

Also, she said, there was a concern that giant homes would block sunlight, putting other residences in the community into shadow.

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