The clock is ticking for homeowners to submit development plans before a new, temporary ordinance intending to slash the size of new houses hits the books. The City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday to approve the interim ordinance, which will be valid for 60 days starting March 16 and then will need to be extended by the City Council. Homeowners have until Feb. 24 to submit plans governed by the old rules.

The new ordinance is geared to address the “mansionization” of Santa Monica by targeting new construction in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes (R1). The rules restrict the height of new homes to 28 feet, the maximum parcel coverage to 50 percent on a sliding scale with a maximum of 20 percent on the second floor and limits the square footage of second floor decks and balconies. In an effort to encourage more housing, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are exempt from the parcel coverage restrictions.

The Council can choose to keep extending the restrictions for up to five years, but hinted there could be revisions along the way. Mayor Ted Winterer called the ordinance a “blunt instrument” intended to “pump the brakes” on new houses while the Council receives public input on permanent rules.

“This interim ordinance is both in direct response to resident concerns about large, speculative new construction and Council’s commitment to preserving the diversity and uniqueness of our residential neighborhoods,” Winterer said in a statement. “A public process will begin soon to pave the way for a more permanent solution to R1 development standards.”

The Council granted a thirty day window to allow homeowners to submit plans already in the works. Plans are typically submitted online and then reviewed by a permit specialist who will decide whether the drafts are completed in time to qualify under the old rules.

The ordinance came as a shock to some homeowners considering plans to remodel or demolish their property to build larger homes.

“I’m finding out today that I needed to submit plans yesterday to vest my entitlement and I don’t think that’s fair,” said Andrew Gross, who’s 2,100 square foot home on 19th Street was built in 1927. Gross said he’s been considering a remodel or complete teardown. “The area north of Montana, they’re beautiful, large houses. That’s the character of that neighborhood. I don’t see that changing.”

The Council and staff sided with neighbors concerned that two-story mansions drastically change the character of the city and hurt neighbor’s access to sunlight and infinge on their privacy.

“I live in a little house surrounded by enormous houses,” said Councilmember Sue Himmelrich who lives north of Montana Avenue as well.

In fact, the North of Montana (NOMA) neighborhood group recently did a survey on the issue they submitted to the Council where 73 percent of 558 respondents said new construction is too large in proportion to neighboring homes. A report from the planning department found on average, new homes are twice as big as the ones they replace.

Councilmember Pam O’Connor was the lone member to vote against the interim ordinance as the clock ticked past 2 a.m., calling the process “slapdash.”

“It’s a bunch of insiders, kind of special interests, friends of friends, (who) got together and said this is what we think,” O’Connor said, calling the process unfair. Multiple residents complained during the meeting they were shocked to find out about the new ordinance.

In response, Councilmember Himmelrich called her statement “bull.”

“I think we have been talking about this. I think that it was in the staff report. We talked about it.”

City planners will begin the comprehensive review process to change the permanent zoning laws in the second half of this fiscal year, according to a press release from the City.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press