Residents were generally in favor of reduced height limits for single family neighborhoods at a recent community meeting but divisions emerged when debate turned to regulations of enclosed garages and accessory dwelling units.

Around 50 Santa Monica residents gathered at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Tuesday, May 21 concerning updates on Single-Unit Residential (R1) zone district development standards. The community open house was the second of three held by the City of Santa Monica to receive feedback on options for revised codes in six areas: maximum parcel coverage, upper-level outdoor space, retention of existing homes, parking, building height limit, and setbacks.

On Feb. 13, 2018, City Council implemented a temporary Interim Zoning Ordinance (IZO) for R1 districts to address resident concerns about the size and appearance of new developments. The alterations enforced by the IZO will expire on Nov. 15 and the Planning Division is conducting research to help shape a permanent set of standards going forward.

The feedback will help formulate potential options for code alterations to be presented to the Planning Commission on June 19, however it will not dictate overall result for the changes, said Ross Fehrman, associate planner.

The standards are being updated with a goal to “evaluate R1 development standards to address the size of new home construction in relation to the existing neighborhood context and scale, incentivize the retention of existing homes, and make the development standards more user-friendly,” Fehrman said.

The changes will apply to new builds and demolitions in the R1 zones including Noma, North East Neighbors, Sunset Park and a small portion of the Pico neighborhood.

“Parcel coverage was one of the biggest things IZO changed,” Fehrman said. “That would be one of the most impactful base standards.”

The IZO changed the allotted maximum total parcel coverage from 61 percent- made up of 35 percent first story and 26 percent second story- to 50 percent, made up of 30 percent first story and 20 percent second story. Residents have varying opinions on what they want in the revised standard, however most opted for either 40 percent or 60 percent.  

There were torn opinions on whether or not accessory dwelling units (ADU) should be exempt from parcel coverage. The IZO does not count ADUs toward total parcel coverage.

“I do not object from restricting footprint coverage of a lot, but do not think that a second story (say an ADU above a garage) that does not expand the footprint should be calculated as part of parcel coverage,” a Santa Monica resident wrote in suggestions.

Other attendee’s argued that an attached ADU is part of a house, and therefore should be calculated in the total parcel coverage.

Residents also discussed an extra percent of coverage to retain mature trees / nature and a majority of the votes opted for detached dwellings to be exempt from parcel coverage.

The maximum square footage for upper-level outdoor space, such as balconies and roof decks, is set at 400 square feet with the IZO. A majority of attendees supported decreasing that number, but some commented that 400 feet is too restrictive.

“As long as outdoor space complies with safety guidelines, they shouldn’t be restricted,” said Edward Brandt, a Santa Monica resident.

However, rooftop spaces may be limited if they exceed height regulations.

A majority of Tuesday’s attendees supported the height limit to be capped at 28 feet, the standard set by IZO which is a decrease from the prior zoning ordinance, which was maxed at 35 feet.

Multiple attendees complained about the height of surrounding buildings because of the effect it has on their solar panels, and forestry.

When it came to setbacks, an overwhelming majority opted for minimum setbacks to be aggregate instead of symmetrical.  

An area opinions split nearly in half addressed whether or not enclosed parking garages should be required.

Additional concerns brought up at the meeting included intrusive outdoor lighting, destruction of forestry, expensive fees, and the tendency of new houses to stray from neighborhoods old character and color scale.

Public input was the second step of the process, following advisory from a technical group compiled of architects, contractors, community representatives, and other design professionals. The next stages of the process will articulate options with the Planning Commission, then the final outcome will be presented to City Council in the fall of 2019.  

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