This post has been updated at the bottom to reflect information provided at the September 13th public hearing on the ICO.
Much has happened in the 18 months since I first wrote about Kentwood’s ICO. The City of LA has been very busy cooking up restrictions for the entire City on what we can do with our Single Family Homes. Every time a restriction tightens, it means less that you can do to enhance your home and, consequently, a loss in potential value.
Historical R-1 Restrictions
Single Family Homes in Westchester and the rest of the City of LA are subject to zoning restrictions that limit size and use. First adopted in 1946, the current Zoning Code has grown from a simple 84-page document to an unwieldy 600+ page book. Even as recently as 2008, LA’s Code was very permissive. Height, floor area and required yard setbacks were the only provisions that addressed building mass and placement.
The BMO Is Born
The early zoning restrictions worked until land values started rising in the 1990’s. Then homeowners started building larger homes to maximize their lots and larger homes started impacting aesthetics and the character of neighborhoods.
Out of the ensuing frustration, R-1 zoning was amended in 2008 by an ordinance called the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (“BMO”). In 2011, the Baseline Hillside Ordinance (“BHO”) was added for properties abutting hillsides. The BMO and BHO changed basic rules governing the size and bulk of new homes, including remodels. Westchester falls within the BMO, but not the BHO.
The Conservationists Are Restless Again
In mid-2014, the City Council asked the Planning Department to prepare amendments to the BMO and BHO to add further restrictions, including restrictions to:
- Reduce the existing exemption for covered porches/patios/breezeways from 250 to 150 feet;
- Eliminate the 100 foot exemption for over-in-height ceilings;
- Eliminate the 20% bonus incentive for green building, as well as two other design bonus incentives
- Modify the building envelope to redirect building mass to the interior of the lot and change the look of long walls
- Limit driveway width; and
- Require grading changes
The Planning Department released its first draft of changes in October 2015 and then a revised version in April 2016, following public hearings on the first draft. The most notable change, in my opinion, was to reduce the allowed Residential Floor Area (“RFA” or allowed square footage of the structure) from 50% of the lot size to 45% of the lot size (the “FAR” or floor area ratio). Reportedly, this change was to bring the FAR of lots smaller than 7500 feet to the existing FAR of 7500+ foot lots. See page 10 of this report.
As the City reduces allowable square footage, homeowners start losing bedrooms that they can add to enhance the value of their lifestyle and the resale value of their home. All of the restrictions proposed for the Amended BMO can be found in Appendix B to this report.
In July, the Planning Department presented its final recommendation to the City Council on BMO/BHO amendments. At this time, it is unclear when the City Council will vote on the proposal, but it’s getting closer. Just this week, the proposed ordinance was referred to the Council’s Planning & Land Use Management Committee. The next step is a full Council vote to adopt the recommended restrictions.
In March 2015, just before the City Council asked Planning to draw up changes to the BMO, the Council adopted a two-year “emergency” interim control ordinance (“ICO”) to restrict development in 15 single-family neighborhoods, including Kentwood. Kentwood was the only Westchester neighborhood to be included in the ICO. In fact, of Councilman Bonin’s entire District 11, only Kentwood, East Venice and Mar Vista were included. By its own terms, at the end of two years, the ICO expires.
The ICO did away with the original BMO’s incentives for green building and two other design incentives and counted certain previously exempt square footage against the 50% limit. Suddenly, where you could have previously built 3600 feet on a 6000 square foot lot, you were looking at less than 3000 feet.
The new ICO meant that Kentwood homeowners were losing a bedroom in their next remodel and the monetary value that goes with that bedroom. Remember, the BMO amendments hadn’t yet been released. It was scandalous that Kentwood was being restricted this way when all the neighborhoods around us were still getting their 50% + incentives.
What nobody knew yet was that the ICO was only a preview of what was coming with the even more restrictive amended BMO.
Fast Forward 18 Months
I can’t believe it, but the ICO is now 18 months old and set to expire in 6 months. But what happens then? This is where the whole ICO controversy gets interesting. Sure, we could revert back to the BMO, but the BMO appears to be headed in a direction that is more restrictive than our crazy ICO (mostly in that allowed floor area under the ICO starts at 50% and the allowed floor area under the proposed BMO amendments starts at 45%).
What is super interesting is that the ICO communities are being given accelerated opportunities to change their restrictions, ahead of finalization of re:code, LA’s ambitious bid to rewrite its 600 pages of zoning codes.
The Post-ICO World Proposed For Kentwood
Post-ICO, the City Planners are recommending that Kentwood be zoned R1V2, one of 9 new R1 zones proposed under re:code. R1V2 (with the “V” standing for variable) allows flexibility in the location of any new second floor you might want to add to your home, compared to the other two new zones which require the second floor to be located toward the front of the first floor (“R1F”) or toward the rear of the first floor (“R1R”). There are three versions of each of the three R1’s relating to square footage, bringing us to 9 new R1 zones.
Flexibility is great, but the “mass” or buildable square footage is cut to 45% of the lot size under R1V2 from 50% under the ICO for 6000 sq ft lots. And just to complicate matters more — because that’s how zoning works in LA — for every 1000′ of increased lot size over 6000, the percentage of buildable square footage drops another 2%, capping at 35% on a 10000 foot lot.
But pay attention to the fact that this is the “proposed” zoning for Kentwood and, as I point out in the next section, somebody thinks we requested this zoning (and no, there is zero truth, to my knowledge, to the rumor that Kentwood Home Guardians made such a request).
The first opportunity that I didn’t appreciate until I recently dug in on all the changes is that the ICO communities are being given a preference to change their zoning status at expiration, ahead of non-ICO communities. That is, they are being given the opportunity to skip ahead to the 9 new re:code R1 zones before re:code is ready for everybody else.
More interesting to me is that Pacific Palisades was not an ICO community, but apparently they raised such a fuss about the proposed BMO amendments that they have been given a quasi-ICO status so that they are getting the same accelerated opportunity to get a re:code R1 designation that the ICO communities are getting.
Even more interesting (the second opportunity) is that the Planning Department is recommending R1V1 with buildable limits for Pacific Palisades of 55% to 65% of lot square footage, rather than the 35% to 45% recommended for Kentwood under R1V2. This says to me that making it patently known to our Councilman that we want bigger houses can get us the same R1V1 zoning recommended for the Palisades. I’d bet money Pac Pali didn’t suddenly slip into the ICO process without his help. 😉
Why do I think that somebody in Planning believes that we asked for R1V2? Look at this table laying out the 9 new zones, specifically at the 5th column where it intersects with the row for zone R1V3. The notation there says “none of the neighborhoods [in the ICO] have requested their area to be rezoned to R1V3″ [emphasis is mine]. I’m not sure who they think requested R1V2 for Kentwood. I attended most, if not all, available meetings and nowhere did I encounter overwhelming support for smaller houses that would suggest a “request.”
Is it too late to get a different recommendation? Definitely not. When the ICO expires, our area can be put into any of the 9 new zones or, if we don’t “choose,” we can default back to the BMO with its looming harsher amendments. It’s up to us to speak up, if we want less restrictive zoning, and the time is now.
So What To Do If You Don’t Favor Unreasonable Restrictions?
So while I know of neighbors who are running around screaming “no ICO!,” that train has left the station. At this point, going “back” to where we were means moving into the BMO and its impending extra restrictive amendments.
What those of us who want fewer restrictions on our properties should be arguing for is rolling right into the same R1V1 zone that is being recommended for Pacific Palisades, not the R1V2 being recommended for us.
So how do you make your voice heard? First, fill out Councilman Bonin’s Zoning Input Form. Tell him that you think R1V1 is the right zone for us when the ICO expires. I’ve seen over and over that he pays attention to these surveys.
Second, fill out the Neighborhood Conservation Survey. Try not to gag as you start to see how biased the survey is. 😉 Rank all of their conservation issues with a “1” for not relevant. Give “other” a 5 (highly relevant) and explain that bigger houses are important to you. For instance, I said “Houses up to 65% of the lot size make more sense to my family than arbitrary limitations.” For the three most important issues, again ignore their suggested categories and click “other,” and state something similar to what I did: “family needs, including extra square footage to work at home and house multi-generational family members.” Under New Zoning Tools, choose the answer that is right for you. I picked “less restrictive with specific limitations.” I don’t think we need to go nuts and build up to our lot lines. You’ll next want to pick the highest FAR (which is the largest buildable area). The rest of the questions are pretty self-explanatory.
Third, there is a public hearing this week in West LA on the ICO for Kentwood, East Venice, Mar Vista and Pacific Palisades. Please come out and support R1V1 for Kentwood. 5:30 pm on Tuesday at 11214 Exposition Blvd. 90064.
We have to fill out these surveys and attend the public meetings! The conservationists are doing all of this. Don’t let the City think that the conservationists hold the majority opinion in Kentwood.
See you Tuesday??
Updates following the September 13th Public Hearing:
The Planning Department unveiled a new category of R1 zones called R1new. This brings three new sub-categories of R1newR, R1newF and R1newV, filling the gap between the mass options 35/45 and 55/65 with, you guessed it, 45/55. For anybody who is keeping score, 55% of a 6000 ft lot size takes us back to our pre-ICO calculation, give or take a few feet.
Regardless of the the R1new option taking us back to a restriction that was “okay,” I’m continuing to urge R1V1 because I suspect somebody is going to want to divide the “baby.”
Also, the Planning staff running the hearing explicitly stated that their recommendations for communities came out of public meetings. I sat next to a Kentwood neighbor last night who attended the last meeting where six community members were in attendance. I think that I attended the meeting before that with about the same number in attendance. There is no overwhelming voice “choosing” for us. We need to speak up if we care about what direction this goes.
For my other observations from the meeting, see the email I sent Councilman Bonin’s staff, which I posted here.
**I am currently a board member for the Kentwood Home Guardians, the homeowners association governing Kentwood. The views in this post are my own, and not those of the association.