The old adage “less is more” has been revived in Los Angeles. On May 6, the LA City Council unanimously approved its “Mansionization Ordinance,” also known as the Neighborhood Character Ordinance, which will restrict the size and bulk of new or remodeled single-family dwellings in many LA neighborhoods. First proposed by council member Tom LaBonge in 2006, it is one of many similar pieces of legislation in the region, all hoping to limit the spread of the much-reviled McMansion.
The LA ordinance will require that houses throughout many of the city’s flatland neighborhoods limit square footage to approximately half the size of their lot and keep garages at a modest 400 square feet. Fulfilling criteria such as having larger setbacks and including “eco-friendly” features would allow homeowners to add another 20 percent to their square footage.
LA residents have long been asking for more restrictions on house size, citing the loss of neighborhood character and, in some cases, privacy, as a glut of multi-level McMansions replaced 20th-century bungalows. According to The Los Angeles Times, LA houses have grown steadily over the years, reaching an average of 2,500 square feet, just over 1,000 square feet larger than the average residence in the western U.S.
LA City Council President Eric Garcetti argued that super-sized houses are the antithesis of sustainable development and a “green” city. “The days of considering land-use decisions separate from their environmental impact are a thing of the past,” Garcetti said.
But realtors and builders have a different take on McMansions. Holly Schroeder, CEO of the Building Industry Association’s Los Angeles/Ventura chapter, said that new homes and substantial remodels are already 30 percent more energy-efficient than in other states and that in the next year, new California standards will push that up another 20 percent. “Bigger homes are not necessarily less efficient,” she said. The Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors said the ordinance will have a negative effect on the already beaten-down housing market and won’t allow families to grow into their current homes.
Their concerns are not entirely unfounded. In a March 2008 review by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LACEDC), it was determined that property values would decline in proportion to the floor area no longer allowed by such an ordinance. However, in the same report, LACEDC pointed to the potential for property values to decline in neighborhoods with prevalent McMansions because the demand for such houses was dropping.
Los Angeles is not the first city in Southern California to put the kibosh on super-sized development. The first anti-mansionization ordinance was introduced by LA City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel in 2005, and applied to the Sunland-Tujunga community the same year. Glendale, Burbank, and Beverly Hills have similar ordinances on the books, and Santa Monica has been curbing super-sized development for a number of years. Other Southland cities have started to undergo similar processes. In February, the Manhattan Beach City Council adopted an ordinance that revised residential building standards in an effort to minimize bulky, lot-consuming houses and additions.