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Council Curbs Spread of Super-Sized Homes

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By Jorge Casuso

October 23, 2019 -- The Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday took a bite out of the super-sized "McMansions" many residents fear are encroaching on their streets.

The new development standards approved by the Council reduce the lot coverage and height of new structures, while increasing second story set-backs and reducing their outdoor spaces.

Single-Family Zoning Districts
Single-Family Zoning Districts (Courtesy City of Santa Monica)

The standards -- -- which take effect January 1 -- apply to more than 6,000 parcels in the North of Montana, North of Wilshire, Sunset Park and Expo/Pico neighborhoods.

The standards exempt accessory dwelling units (ADU), or "granny flats," from parcel coverage.

The Council will revisit the City's ADU standards in light of a new state law to boost their production ("Bloom's 'Granny Flat' Measure Signed Into Law," October 9, 2019).

The updated development standards balance "the desire to preserve the character that makes Santa Monica’s residential neighborhoods so attractive and the need for families to build based on changing needs,” said Mayor Gleam Davis.

“We’ve focused on incentivizing remodels over new construction and allowing more flexibility on smaller lots,” Davis said after the meeting.

Under the new standards -- which replace the temporary standards adopted by the Council in February 2018 -- new homes can only cover 45 percent of the lot, while additions to one and two-story homes can cover 55 percent.

The standards also set a maximum height of 28 feet with no wall height above 23 feet and determine second story setbacks based on parcel coverage instead of height.

Individual balconies, decks, terraces, first-story roof decks, and similar outdoor spaces cannot exceed 3 percent of parcel area or 300 square feet, whichever is less.

Tuesday's vote caps a year-and-a-half-long process that pitted neighbors in single-family districts across the increasingly expensive city, where teardowns routinely sell for more than $2 million.

Opponents of the new standards mounted a campaign that included at least one robocall and a mailer picturing a masked robber stealing home values.

They argued that the new standards will greatly devalue the price of a home ("Battle Over 'McMansions' Escalates in Santa Monica as New Standards Head to Council," September 12, 2019).

Proponents of the new standards say super-sized homes are increasingly looming over the bungalows and frame houses that once lined the city's residential streets.

The new standards are part of a list of incentives to retain existing homes incorporated into the city's R1 zoning update.

They include "eliminating enhanced parking requirements for major additions and allowing for flexibility around setbacks and stepbacks for home additions," City officials said.

Requirements for enclosed garages also have been eliminated, officials said.

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