While 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 last week passed a so-called “anti-mansionization” measure last week for the community of Sunland-Tujunga, to combat the construction of massive homes that are out of character with the surrounding community. Other communities are pursuing similar measures.
Earlier this year, a developer tore down a small existing home in the Van Nuys, Calif.-area community of Valley Glen and began construction on a 5,400-square-foot new home on the same lot. That didn’t go over too well with some residents.
“It was the classic citizens’ revolt,” said Peer Ghent, president of the Valley Glen Neighborhood Association, 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 while others think they are out of place. The community is dominated by single-story ranch-style homes built in the 1950s.
“All we’re saying is, ‘Be reasonable.’ Let’s make sure that if you build that larger home make it more consistent with what’s around,” he said. “We’re not trying to define taste. We’re trying to figure out if there is a way to try to accommodate the developer and homeowner who are looking for a more modern, larger house and not destroy the neighborhood in terms of overall appearance.”
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 percent or less of the total lot size, and restrict the second floor to 40 percent of the lot size. Also, the proposal calls for minimum setback requirements from the property lines, and also restricts second-floor window sizes. The proposed ordinance would also set new restrictions on second-floor balconies and rooftop decks.
Dorian Alan, a Realtor for Prudential California in Sherman Oaks, Calif., and a Valley Glen resident whose husband is the developer behind the controversial big home and other large homes in the community, said the new homes are fulfilling a demand.
“I understand there is no such thing as absolute freedom,” Alan said. But communities should be careful not to restrict the rights of homeowners, she also said. “Telling people what they can do on the average lot…I can’t get behind that.” Alan, who markets and sells the homes that her husband develops, said she worries that homeowners in the community 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.”
Also, there will be less incentive for developers to build new homes in communities with restrictive ordinances, she said. “Most of the people who we encounter, they completely support what we’re doing,” she said. “We’re building in an area where the homes are still modestly priced. It gives those people who really want to have a larger home…an opportunity to have a dream home for still a modest price.”
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-dry as that.”
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the average U.S. house size has more than doubled from 1950 to 1999, while the average family size has dropped. From 1982 to 2004, the average floor area of new single-family houses grew 40 percent, from 1,690 square feet to 2,366 square feet. And about 55 percent of all new single-family homes in the U.S. had two or more stories in 2004, up from 30 percent in 1978.
Charlotte Laws, a member of the Greater Valley Glen Council and a Realtor for Prudential in Studio City, Calif., 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 of architectural style, for example, 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 house that caused the community uproar, “I frankly think it’s a pretty house,” she said.
Her initial reaction to the construction of large new 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’d like to see this community get better. I don’t like the idea of all these restrictions. If people want restrictions they should live in a gated community.”
She added, “I think this mansionization tends to happen in areas that are more expensive or up-and-coming areas. (Residents) should be flattered. I think it’s going to increase property values. My view is that this is the trend. People want bigger houses. You’re going to see more and more and more of these. Eventually it is the little houses that are going to look out of place.”
In the community of Sunland-Tujunga, Calif., the 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 on the lot of up to 2,400 square feet, or 40 percent 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. This has not been about legislating aesthetics.”
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 and literally overshadow other homes in the community.
The Southern California communities of Burbank and Glendale have reportedly also adopted some stricter requirements for large homes, and the community of Valley Village is pursuing restrictions, too. And it’s not just a California phenomenon. The Montgomery County Council in Maryland is considering new restrictions for large-sized homes as well.
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