“NEIGHBORHOOD CHARACTER” QUESTIONED

Against my own advice not to get involved in personal zoning issues, I find I’m compelled to comment on the current city conundrum involving a proposed house on Portshead Road.

The issue has gone too public to ignore, especially since the Planning Commission, after a protracted hearing, declined to vote on the proposal for the 8.800 square foot project and instead kicked it to City Council.

Beyond the emotions it has generated –should the applicant be allowed to build two and a half times the size of his neighbors’ houses– there is a major planning issue involved, concerning the definition of neighborhood character., as I comment on public radio 97.5 KBU and select websites.

Indeed, in a similar case recently, citing size, the city ruled against a property owner where all other conditions also had met, as they have on Portshead. This set an important precedent.

Nevertheless, the Portshead applicant went before the planning commission, obviously confident that his plans for what he described as his dream house would be acceptable.

However, there were objections, and a petition reportedly was circulated objecting to the size of the project. This prompted a lament by the applicant, which stirred a well-spring of sympathy and an antithetical petition to approve the project.

That sentiment was echoed at the commission hearing, no doubt a factor in it backing off from a decision. With a polite nod to the heart felt sentiments, I feel zoning is not an issue to be decided by petitions, circulated on behalf of whomever.

That should be the purview of the planning commission, and city council. And as often stated at hearings, zoning cases should not be based on how attractive the project or appealing the applicant, but on their compliance with city codes and applicable precedents.

In addition to the echoing of the phrase “neighborhood character” so were the terms “mansionization: and “mcmansion.” This struck a chord with me, for I am cited by Wikipedia as one of several authors that coined the phrases, specifically when I was the LA Times architecture critic in the 1980s. Having also written several books on planning immodestly made me an authority.

I first used the phrase in describing the practice in Santa Monica of building the largest size house possible on a site, which in turn led to a domino effect that ultimately compromises the character of neighborhoods and accelerates hyper gentrification. .

In Malibu, I recall too well a case years ago in which an over designed plan for a prime site on Cliffside Drive had been objected to by neighbors, but nonetheless was approved by the city after an emotional appeal by the owner.

He and his tearful wife pleaded that though a “mcmansion,” the house nevertheless was the family’s dream, where they intended to live into the sunset.

Within a year after completion, they flipped the house for a huge profit, and flipped off Malibu. It therefore makes one wary, especially knowing that the larger the house in Malibu, the much larger the profit, say realtors who always seem ready to pump up properties to maximize their commissions.

.The size of the proposed Portshead project was defended by the applicant, who stated that it may be excessive, but he wanted to include such amenities as a gym and a screening room to make it a fun house for his family.

However ingenuous the remarks or not, the real issue persists whether the project is out of neighborhood character. It is a tough question, which calls for some common sense, and common courtesy, and frankly not crocodile tears.

Meanwhile, the applicant might want to consider a more modest house, which his respected architect said was possible, or build elsewhere where the project would be more in character. There are such streets in Malibu, though Portshead is not one of them.
 

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hallkaplan

Parallel careers as an urban planner and a journalist, principally at present airing commentaries on pubic radio 97.5 KBU.FM The many arrows in my quiver have included Emmy award winning reporter/ producer for local Fox Television News, design critic for the Los Angeles Times, urban affairs reporter for The New York Times, an editor of The New York Post, contributor to various popular and professional publications, news services and broadcast outlets, including Reuters, NET, NBC, CBS, NPR and the BBC. Founding editor of the East Harlem (NY) Independent. A diversity of professional positions and consultancies in the private and public sectors, (Metro, Disney Imagineering, Howard Hughes, M. Milken, NYC Educational Construction Fund, US Comptroller of the Currency etc,) assorted academic appointments (UCLA, USC, CCNY, Art Center etc.), and always open to new challenge. And let us not forget fashioning sand castles and acting on 90210, crafting TV docs, design reviews, master plans.

Books: “The Dream Deferred: People, Politics and Planning in Suburbia,” “L.A. Lost and Found,” an architectural history of Los Angeles, “L.A. Follies,” a collection of essays, and co-author of “The New York City Handbook.” Writings have appeared in academic texts, commentaries on the web, scripts for TV, and wherever, latest the Architects Newspaper, The Planning Report and Planetizen.

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