Thursday, October 27, 2016

Councilman calls for reviewing small-lot development rules

Silver Lake small-lot developments

Small-lot developments, which allow multiple, single family homes to be packed into the same lot,  have popped up from Echo Park and Silver Lake to Glassell Park and Eagle Rock.   But now, in the perhaps the most recent sign of a push back against the current building boom,  Councilman Tom LaBonge has proposed updating current guidelines and imposing stricter rules in light of  problems and complaints generated by the projects.

“Some of them are pretty ugly,” said Renee Weitzer, Chief of Land Use Planning for Councilman LaBonge, whose Fourth District includes a portion of Silver Lake.  “Some are just boxes.”

LaBonge does not want to repeal the small-lot ordinance but constituents from Hollywood, Silver Lake and other communities have been complaining about the developments, Weizer said.  A decade after the small-lot development ordinance was adopted,  it’s time to update the guidelines, she said.  For example, many small-lot developments have been allowed to be constructed  up to the sidewalk in neighborhoods where other homes and apartments have been set back a few feet.  “That is not compatible with the neighborhood,” she said.

There have also been some unforeseen issues that have come up by packing multiple single-family homes on a lot where one house used to stand.  Neighbors have complained about the  noise generated by new roof-top terraces and the lack of parking on trash day when new homeowners place multiple sets of bins on the street.  Unlike many condo or apartment projects,  small lot guidelines do not require private trash pick up.

Part of the problem, said Weitzer, ‘is that the guidelines are policy, but they do not address the issues that result from small lot subdivisions.”   There is a need for “real conditions” to be imposed on the projects.

Weitzer said the Planning Department is currently reviewing the small-lot development guidelines but it is not going far enough to deal with the problems. Under LaBonge’s motion, the Planning Department would evaluate and look at possibly changing the underlying ordinance “to ensure that future Small Lot Subdivisions are compatible with the neighborhoods.”

In July, Councilman Mitch O’Farrell introduced a motion that restrict intense residential development in the hills of Echo Park and Silver Lake in response to complaints about small-lot development.

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  1. Thank you councilmen LaBonge and O’Farrell!

  2. Not a bad idea… hopefully this motion will address our over-developed hillsides. We should be pushing future development onto the boulevards and central/flat areas of the city where the infrastructure can handle growth.

  3. Good idea. The small lot developments need to fit in with the existing neighborhoods, and as Mitch O’Farrell suggested should not be built on hillsides.

  4. A-freakin-men!

  5. It’s time for an ICO (interim control ordinance) to put a temporary halt to the new Small Lot Subdivision applications in Hillside Areas until we get some guidelines in place, since nothing seems to be getting done on any of the proposed legislation/ordinances for the hillsides in City Planning that dosen’t make it easier for developers to build.

    I know for a fact, community activists in Silver Lake & Echo Park brought up ALL those issues CD4 is talking about, when the Small Lot Ordinance was barreling through the process. Who could have possibly foreseen all those problems?

    Let’s also review the issue of shared driveway maintenance since I’m pretty sure that was an oversight too. Face it – a big shared driveway is essentially a private street. That is not a fee simple arrangement. Good luck getting everybody on board to pay for repaving the driveway when it’s needed. The City isn’t going to repave your private road either.

    Are the roofs attached? It seems like they are in many of the drawings we see. If so, that becomes an issue when they leak for insurance claims. Your insurance company will say the homeowners association did not maintain the shared roof, thus they are liable for the damage caused by the leak. Like it or not, you’re tied to your neighbors for upkeep.

    • There are guidelines already in place; it’s called the small lot ordinance.

      Speaking as someone looking to own but can’t afford a single family home in these neighborhoods, this is an attractive alternative to condo living.

      • But it’s totally changing the character of the hilly neighborhood for the worst. If you can’t afford to buy a stand alone home here, but are willing to buy in a small lot development that, along with others like it, will hide the hills and turn the place into something identical to a development in a flat area, why not just buy in a flat area?

        • I’d argue that the silver lake hills, for example, lost their bucolic charm a long time ago when single family homes, many of which are practically mansions, were built there in the first place. Clearly, developers are most interested in their bottom line; however, demand is what’s spurring these types of developments. I think we can all make a little more room, maybe even put up with more traffic and share our neighborhoods so that a few more people can live here.

  6. Yes!! Please put some curbs on this!! It’s ridiculous to see streets around these things on trash day, let alone try to park near one. Everyone knows nobody uses tandem spots and garage’s quickly get converted to storage facilities. The lots in in EP and SL are small enough already.

  7. Right on. Kudos to O’Farrell and LaBonge. (Although… not to be unkind, but I suspect someone else in LaBonge’s office is pushing for this, not Tom himself. Tom is very pro-business and pro-development. “It creates jobs!” as he loves to say.)

  8. Echo Park resident

    This is a step in a positive direction! Thanks to the CD4 and CD13 offices for taking a stand on this. I wonder if the community variance will also be upheld and discussed in these negotiations; I’m getting nervous about those ugly apartments being proposed on Sunset near the edge of Echo Park.

    • Imagine a full size cruise ship parked on Sunset Blvd. Yes! Its that big! EP Resident, I hope you have signed the petition (along with 1000 of your neighbors) to ratchet down this TITANIC that will loom over Historic Angelino Heights. It will cut off hillside views and turn this area into another WILSHIRE.

      45 feet is the limit! Somehow these Developers are able to access height “Bonuses” that impose 6 story towers in our neighborhoods and leave our communities without parking or hillside views. They suck the character from our bungalow-filled heights, exchanging it for cold, looming stucco boxes casting long shadows on century old homes. 70 Feet is too high!

      We will have 1,400 apartment units (which means about 2000 cars) moving into the 1/3 mile section of the Sunset corridor between Elysian Park Dr. and Beaudry over the next 1-3 years.

      Orsini has just announced a 9.5 acre development going in at Temple and Beaudry — that will be 1000 units. MWD glass building 92 units, Sunset Everett 214 units, Sunset/Elysian 28 units, Everett Hilltop aprox 50 units.

      If anyone cares to look at the Traffic Study demonstrating that these apartments will have “no significant impacts” it can be found on http://www.WeAreEchoPark.com

      While you are on the website, please sign the petition if you haven’t already.

      SPEAK UP! Join IN! The next insensitive, out-of-scale project *will be* next to your house. Don’t sit back and figure its not coming to you— its already here.

  9. Blame the City for the ridiculous trash can situation in much of the area. Basically they charge for trash through the Ladwp electric bill whether you want it or not – and do not give the option of dumpsters like other cities do. So on trash day you have tenants of 6 and 10 unit buildings all hauling cans to the street – a total mess…

    The real underlying issue has nothing to do with small lot projects – these projects are often less dense than the condos or apartments that are also allowed on these parcels. The problem that an antiquated zoning code which still allows 4 story blank unarticulated walls along the full length of the required setbacks.

  10. Small-lot developments, whether dense or not, are popping up all over our hills, causing more dangerous traffic on old narrow streets, while demolishing old homes, moving earth and ripping out old trees and foliage. Our streets are now even more dangerous to drive on.

    I’m tired of greedy developers, realtors and politicians rationalizing these projects with buzz words like “cycling, pedestrian communities” — with their old standby, “job creation.” As much as we’d like to fantasize that Los Angeles can build pedestrian communities, the reality is that L.A. is a spread out city that will always require cars. Any public transport that would actually enable pedestrian projects is long in the making, if not totally impossible in many areas of L.A.

    Echo Park is not a single demographic composed of young athletic people who can bike or hike for groceries, climb steep hills to and from bus stops and take bulky heavy items across town. There are many mobility challenged seniors and families who must depend on cars. (Not to mention all the young musicians who have to carry instruments across town!)

    The small-lot development regulations must be changed to fit each individual situation. Changes should actually prevent ANY more small-lot developments in our hills & on our narrow, steep winding roads. Kudos to LaBonge and O’Farrell. Thank you for listening to the communities you serve!

  11. Both density and compatibility are issues on which we need to stand firm. We are Echo Park. We’re not West LA.

    A prime example of a dense and incompatible project is the mega-condo complex proposed for Sunset and Everett. Totally out of character and scale with the surroundings.

    Get an eyeful and sign the petition on Facebook at We Are Echo Park.

    • The issue in resisting density and compatibility issues.. is that state laws grease the skids to make it happen. You have SB375 and AB32 that planners and developers can use to push through high density projects almost anywhere they please. You have density bonuses in the housing codes. We have groups like SCAG who develop their RHNA numbers (population growth estimates) based on junk science, but which forces cities to upzone and densify.

  12. We’ve been complaining about this down on Rowena for years but City Council wouldn’t listen until the homeowners up in the hills were affected and had something to say about it. It’s frustrating that you have to be a business owner or a home owner to have a voice but I’m glad they spoke up and something is finally being done. I also question the logic of taking Rowena down to a one lane street while adding a total of 200 plus condo units within a two square mile area on/near this street. How many extra cars is that? It’s simple math. Also, the nonstop construction from these private developments on top of all the recent DWP work has left many of us who live down here with year-round allergies and other illnesses. My allergies got so bad, I had fluid build up in my ears that required a myringotomy (cutting the eardrums to relieve pressure) I still have constant ear/sinus issues. Construction starts on the Auburn Ave condo project next month. It’s about 100 yards from my front door. I’m absolutley dreading it. I hope this review gets results.

    • I absolutely agree with you. Several good friends of mine on the Semi-Tropic Spiritualists Tract suffered serious sinus infections, ear problems – even their dogs were diagnosed with skin and eye allergies. All this misfortune so that a developer could dump a big pile of poop. I wonder if those rats in cages will suffer the same fate since it was built so close to the 2 Freeway.

  13. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but Sunset is a central/main street with frequent 24/7 bus service to Downtown and to Hollywood. Why is a 6 story mid-rise so shocking to some of you? To me the only issue with that building is the banal architecture and lack of storefronts.

    Parking and traffic are but one aspect of urban growth… there’s bigger problems to consider: Do we want more suburban sprawl eating up our wildlife and farmland? Do we want gentrification and limited housing stock to continue pushing working folks out of the city? No? Than infill development is the most realistic alternative.

    This is why a lot of developers are receiving density bonuses, they are providing affordable housing in areas that have the infrastructure/potential to handle growth. Traffic and parking will inevitably get worse, sure, but what do you expect… LA is the seconf biggest city in the country, those are just bi-products of living in a global city full of life, culture, business and opportunity.

    Should we restrict hillside development? Absolutely! But it’s unrealistic to live walking distance from downtown LA and not expect urban development in the flats and on the boulevards.

    • I agree with cornersoul. We live in a crowded city and it seems appropriate and necessary to build high density housing on a main thoroughfare such as Sunset Blvd. Blocking all development is a bit shortsighted. Maybe in the long run development along main streets, which have transportation and pedestrian options, can keep the hills less crowded? Also, the more residential main streets become, it’s likely public transportation will improve by necessity.

      • You know, I agree in theory, but the reality is that all of the new housing we build.. no matter where it is.. the vast majority of new residents WILL own and use cars. High density dwellers down in the flats may not drive as much as their hillside neighbors, but they will often want to go to many of the interesting places in LA outside their immediate walkable area. How will they get there? Some places are easily accessible by transit. Many are not. The easiest (and most likely) way for transit to improve is via bus routes. However, reality says that *most* people won’t take the bus. Buses will be stuck in the same traffic. Plus, we’ve seen that people, currently are willing to sit in the existing amount of traffic.. which says, unless a much more attractive option comes along (cleaner, faster, cheaper, more reliable, more efficient .. perhaps light rail?) people currently using cars will continue to do so.
        Building high density housing will only add cars to the road. It’s the reality of LA

        • I won’t argue that infill development will increase traffic in the city (just as sprawl has)… more people means more congestion, no way around that. But unlike sprawl, it will allow new residents to live, work and play within a much closer proximity. This will reduce the need to drive for everyday errands, and many more people will be able to live car-lite or car-free (students, seniors, telecommuters, those on a budget, etc.)

          And I totally agree we need mass transit that isn’t stuck in traffic. But the federal funds and loans required to build light rail and subways are highly competitive, so only areas of the city with walkable density are going to have the ridership numbers to justify that kind of investment.

          In the meantime, we could very easily convert mixed lanes to “bus-only” during peak hours to increase road capacity and get people moving. And of course, a lot could be done to calm speeding motorists and make the city more pedestrian friendly – I’m hoping Mayor Garcetti will follow through on that, as it’s definitely low hanging fruit.

      • @corner soul, @epres Our community movement to save neighborhood character is ABSOLUTELY NOT about stopping development. Why don’t you check out the website?

        Most of us are homeowners and long-term renters. We want a housing development, just not one that is 70 feet tall and three blocks long. You know, they orignally came to the Neighborhood Council with a project that was 45 feet tall and 200 units. Now, we are 70′ feet tall and 214 units, all for the promise of a Pizza Hut and a Quiznos? NO Thank you!

        We are pushing for a Higher-Quality, better designed development that relies on the Community Plan; why can’t you get behind that? Thats what everyone should be pushing for: Better designs that integrate with your neighborhood and projects that are smaller than the ask, WITH community benefits attached.

        We want to use our leverage to negotiate community benefits tied to the project that will promote walkability, prefer local qualifying families for low-income units, use local vendors for maintenance and repairs, upgrade intersection safety, bus ridership, ride-share incentives, traffic mitigation measures, etc. The developer (Aragon, Canada) isn’t offering any of these benefits of its own goodwill, we have to negotiate and push for every single one of them.

        These companies don’t care about our neighborhoods! Stand up folks.

        • @Jennifer D: I agree with you on negotiating for community benefits, but I just don’t think a six story building is terribly out of place on a major boulevard like Sunset.

          However, a lot of these new mid-rises do end up having chain retail and spanning 3 blocks with blank walls. In most cases this is a zoning problem. One issue is that LA still requires suburban levels of parking for urban locations (even those well served by mass transit.) This raises the cost to build, and unintentionally prices out a lot of small businesses and renters. It also ensures the ground floor will double as an industrial scale parking garage. We also require very wide driveways, making littering our sidewalks with curb cuts and speeding cars cutting off pedestrians as they pull into the garage. These design elements kill any hope for charming streets and handsome facades like the older mid-rises in the neighborhood (Jensens Rec, Hepburn Manor, Chango, etc.)

          I would argue that instead of focusing on things that are inevitable in any big city (limited parking, taller development, traffic congestion), we’d be better off reducing parking requirements near mass transit, fighting for district parking permits, traffic calming and signalized crosswalks for locals, and implementing form based codes into the zoning that foster human scaled mid-rise buildings, and prioritize small businesses in the ground floor retail spots.

          • @jennifer D, you’re probably aware of this because you referenced it yourself, but the original smaller residential only 4 story proposal was made taller to incorporate retail and more parking AFTER tons of complaining from GENPEC and community members in attendance at their first meeting.


            I don’t disagree with you, if being 6 stories tall eliminates the view of existing residences behind them, then that is not right. I don,t see the problem with the length, and while i personally enjoy modernist style, i’m sure the look of the building is debatable with the developer. I’m just trying to offer a bit of perspective of how when you try and build anything around here, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. You seem to live nearby, would your group be happy with a 5 story building? 4?

            BTW: before someone says ‘just build more underground parking’, I just want to point out that would make the project incredibly more expensive, (especially on a hillside) raising both residential and commercial rents significantly. However, I have a feeling there will be a middle ground compromise that can be reached.

          • That’s what we are currently negotiating— if only Cedillo would meet with us. 1000 signatures, including 40 local businesses and we can’t get time with our Coucilmember? His field staff has been coming to meetings lately, but 1000 local signatures should have his hear.

            We are asking for local businesses (Aragon says they can’t control that) We are asking for better, more inviting outdoor areas and potential shop fronts, rather than the flat, generic nastiness in the renderings, just begging for a Quiznos. We are asking for another crosswalk too. Whats the point of having retail on both sides of Sunset if you can’t cross effectively? Where is Cedillo, coming in to help? beats me.

            I have to respond to @really? below. The outreach conducted by ARAGON was abysmal. No one living on the angelino heights side or south side of Everett was ever flyered, until October, after we complained that we hadn’t had the opportunity for input. So much for all the early “complaining” by folks who don’t even live in the vicinity. If they wanted to reach out, they could have started by posting in on the A Hts yahoo group back in June when they started their so-called outreach. It was designed to NOT reach us. Wonder why?

            My favorite quote from Fred, the Aragon developer: “We have to raise the building (20 ft) to accommodate the retail. We lose money on the retail.”

            Absurd. I’m sure they’ll ask around $3 sf. That’s some crazy Canadian math if they are losing money on the retail. This is nothing but chasing a density bonus target and leaving behind dysfunctional, bland retail opportunities.

            We are meeting with this developer, but progress has been very slow and the application is already in. The clock is ticking and no progress can be documented. Yes, it needs to be lower. It must be broken up. It needs to follow the topography. We need to see the hill. We need retail that works — for Local businesses– with crosswalks and outdoor seating. We need a flexible retail plan that can grow over time. We need parking solutions. (Cedillo apparently does not support restricted parking!) We need traffic controls. So far, all they offer is to re-stripe Beaudry/Sunset.

            Mostly we need people to pay attention, come to the NC meetings. This is just one of many to come. Get ready.

          • @ JenniferD

            Most of your demands seem pretty reasonable, (although as for the retail: while i prefer a local deli to a quiznos, i prefer a quiznos to yet another candle/used clothing / hipster store. but thats just me.) and it seems to me GENPEC and some busybodies screwed this up back in march when they demanded retail and more parking, without consulting neighbors such as yourself who will be directly affected. Let us know when the next NC meeting is, I’ll try my best to come out and support.

            The good news is Aragon HAS a plan for a smaller 4 story complex. I know thats not perfect either, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

    • Corner Soul:

      I’m sorry, but your pro-infill development stance is misguided. For 2 main reasons:

      1) Much infill development in Silver Lake and surrounding areas are NOT apartment complexes, but 5+ unit homes on a single family lot. This is NOT “affordable” housing for many. These homes are going for $700K and up. That’s just the reality of infill development that’s going on in our neighborhood.

      2) One cannot — with sanity — beat the drum for infill development, while at the same time support reducing actual traffic lanes to put in bike lanes. This is stupid and ludicrous. If the City wants bike lanes everywhere, and we lose traffic lanes in the process — which we are — then we cannot sustain massive more development that brings in many thousands of new residents/homes.

      Both of these points are, to me, common sense. But I guess not to everyone.

      • I disagree, from my understanding this project is receiving a density bonus by setting aside units for low income tenants. And even if most of the new housing being built in the neighborhood is pricey, it will still increase housing supply which will help stabilize rising rents on older units in the area that don’t have all the mod cons (supply and demand.)

        And I would argue that complete streets with bike lanes, peak hour bus lanes, pedestrian scale shopping, and safe/convenient crosswalks work best with a certain amount of density and foot traffic. LA is growing and we need to stop planning every space solely around cars, that’s the problem.

  14. Gentrification and limited housing stock is already pushing many people out of the city and these developments are hastening the process. These develpoments aren’t going up on empty lots. They are being built on demolished properties, many of which were people’s homes, many of them lower income renters. The Auburn Place development, brought to you by Hey Dey corp, the same developers that built that monstrosity on Rowena next to the Edendale, will be demolishing six small bungalows in order to build a three story luxury townhouse.(seven units) Prices start at $750,000-$800,000. My neighbors who have been evicted to make way for this were all renters, some who lived in their homes over ten years; one woman lived there 28 years. These are working class people, and this has been happening in Silverlake for too long. Some people call this progress however I don’t see how getting rid of affordable housing to make way for luxury condos that only a few can afford is progress.

  15. I sure hope these Reps’ proposals grow some teeth. I get that people have this “by right” to build what they want, but most of these Developers don’t give a crap about the historical value of our neighborhoods or the people that choose specifically to move here because of the house next to house neighborhoods. They just want to exploit what people that have moved, bought, rent, lived and built here. Do we allow outside Developers to piggyback on our hard work and love to relish, renew and protect our unique, historic, artistically and architecturally rich Cottages, Duplex, Triplex and Fourplex filled close neighborhoods?
    As for the allowing for unfettered heavily dense large complexes along “Transit Corridors” without looking at the detailed specifics each proposed site presents is in my opinion Short Sighted. The most potent evidence of this point is the horrible Jeffery Palmer Las Vegas looking Orsini monstrosity. The very same place that is considered by the LAPD to be the number one crime ridden Apartment Complex in the City of Los Angeles. It has attracted seedy and raucous individuals and a very high vacancy rate. And Palmer is preparing to build another of one of his Massive Neighborhood Wreckers on Temple, a stones throw from his crap can Orsini Vegas Complex. Do we really want that type of crap and density creeping up into our Historic Echo Park and Angelino Heights? Causing more and more traffic and short term tenants that don’t give a flying crap about anything outside their small apartments, let alone our historic neighbors? WHEN DO WE STAND UP AND DEFEND what we moved here for? The Orsini can’t even rent all it’s units, nor any businesses in the ground floor commercial spaces. WE SHOULD BUILD MORE???
    Small Lot Subdivisions MUST be deeply scrutinized and neighbors must be included and empowered to be part of the decisions that directly effect their their properties and or quality of life. Short Sighted goes both ways.

  16. Thank you Councilman! Finally, after much local outrage, someone in city government is calling a time out. And it’s about time. Silverlake and Echo Park really are not designed to accommodate thousands of new residents, which, if you add up all the new development proposals, is not at all an exaggeration. Inhospitable will be our main thoroughfares–Sunset, Hyperion, Rowena, Glendale. LaBonge is in his last term but Mitch O’Farrell is in his first. We must let him know that backing the overdevelopment of our neighborhoods will mean he is a one-termer. Please stand up for the rustic and the historic beauty of our hillsides and slopes. If developers want to truly impress us with their green intentions, they must bring the outside in and spend some money on design rather than simply plunking down cheap prefab structures with faux-eco roof deckst that pass poorly as garden space. Up with bees, down with bullshit.

  17. The issues that have been raised in this conversation are the same ones that west LA folks have been dealing with. We see our affordable housing stock depleted and replaced with out of scale developments that receive density bonuses by providing one or two “affordable” units… with a net LOSS of 4, 6, 8, 10… or more units in the process of destroying neighborhood character.

    It is time for eastside and westside activists to join together so that the Council cannot discount our concerns over current LA planning directives as the concerns of some small westside NIMBY (or eastside NIMBY) groups.

    Too much of the City’s planning direction is based on assumptions and wishful thinking. If I hear one more comparison being made between LA and New York City, Chicago, Portland or some other metropolis that shares few of LA”s characteristics (or geography), I will explode. We are not New York. We do not have the transit available in other cities. We have a huge region where residents and workers commute significant distances in the course of their daily lives. Sure, some would like to move closer to their work but in the real world these things don’t happen overnight. Sure, it would be nice if more people rode bikes but realistically, even if LA matched Portland in percentages of bike riders, we would still have a massive transportation dilemma (that will only be exacerbated by well intentioned but unrealistic desires to remove traffic lanes on busy streets to “calm” traffic to make it safer for bikes while desiring to slow traffic to such a degree that more drivers will abandon their cars. (When you are carpooling six kids, the option of riding a bike seems a bit absurd.)

    Eastside and westside folks need to work together to see that the City’s current kool-aid drinking influenced planning initiatives are not rolled out as the gospel truth and instead that there are efforts to protect and preserve neighborhoods and evolve cautiously while doing careful evaluations of what has been built, what the impacts are and to make fact based assessments as to future impacts.

    Declaring that all living near transit will ride bikes and take transit is not credible. Declaring that all projects built in proximity of transit are “transit oriented development” (vs. transit adjacent development) is a lie. Seeking to implement wholesale transit oriented districts or granting overly generous SB 1818 bonus densities is an affront to the character of all our neighborhoods. Having out of date community plans should not allow our neighborhoods to be the victims of greedy developers who seek to maximize their profit at all costs… at the community’s cost.

    More must be done across the City to put a halt to fantasy-based planning. And the city needs to revisit its own implementation plan for SB 1818. Other cities have not been so generous and have not allowed developers to have so many “by right” off the menu choices to increase density and have unmitigatable impacts on their neighbors. It is a real tragedy when communities find that their city only listens to them when they raise money to take legal action and SUE. That should not have to be.

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