City Hall (File photo)

The Planning Commission wants permission to discuss and potentially restrict “mansionization” of the city’s residential neighborhoods.

At their Oct. 5 meeting the commission voted to ask City Council to prioritize regulations that would restrict rebuilding of homes in so called R1 (single unit residential) neighborhoods. The Commission will send a letter to Council formally requesting the council hold a discussion and direct staff to bring the issue back for debate at the commission.

Commissioner Richard McKinnon prompted the discussion at the Planning Commission and said he did so because the commission had seen a parade of applicants increasing the size of their homes in recent years.

“In Sunset park, two years ago when I doorknocked the area it was every third house that was in the process of renovating, now it would be every second house and we have literally hundreds of applications in to do building changes and approvals that are doubling, tripling and quadrupling the size of what were essentially little bungalows so this concern goes to that,” he said.

While regulation of other districts has undergone significant revisions over the years, he said the rules for R1 districts have remained relatively unchanged for decades but the kind of use in the zone has changed.

“The pressure in the city, driven by the economics of the moment, are such that if we don’t look at this, much of the city will change right before our eyes and in entirely unreasonable and unacceptable ways,” he said.

He said a prior attempts at controlling the size of single family homes are not working as new owners are pushing the envelope of what is legal.

“It’s quite clear a new wave of people with considerable amounts of money are investing in seeking ways to break those envelopes and change the nature of those neighborhoods.”

Several commissioners said the issue was with small houses that are remodeled to cover the majority of the lot in a way that overshadows their neighbors. They said the result can destroy the integrity of a neighborhood and radically alter the culture of a street.

New Commissioner Leslie Lambert said remodeling is possible without resorting to a “home depot special off the street.”

“Something’s not working and as a resident of a neighborhood where that’s happening, I think we need to look at it.”

Staff said construction isn’t allowed if the plans violate the city’s codes, but recent applications have pushed right to the limit of what is allowed. They said part of the change is likely due to turnover of longtime residents with the new owners interested in a modern standard of living.

NOMA resident Nancy Coleman said more and more housing is coming down in her neighborhood and suggested several specific proposals including a height limitation, protections for historic trees and rules for lot coverage.

She said architects have become adept at bending the rules and that the fundamental question was “How much square footage is appropriate for what size lot?”

The Planning Commission and its staff work at the behest of City Council and are not able to assign themselves these kind of comprehensive reviews. Staff said they needed direction from council to pursue the subject and said Council would also have to make clear where the project fit with other previously assigned priorities such as plans for Memorial Park or a zoning document for the Pico Neighborhood.

“If we were to be instructed to jump on this immediately then something else would have to give,” said Planning Director David Martin.