The city of Santa Monica has released a plan to discourage the demolition of existing homes in single-family neighborhoods.
Santa Monica’s four single-family neighborhoods — Sunset Park, North of Montana, North of Wilshire and a small part of Pico — have seen an influx of new houses that are typically double or triple the size of existing homes. Officials have spent more than a year considering how to incentivize developers to renovate or expand homes rather than replacing them.
The Planning Commission and the council must enact permanent development standards for the four neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes before the temporary standards the city council passed last February expire in November.
On Wednesday, the commission will take the first step by voting to recommend the council adopt standards that aim to preserve the character of single-family neighborhoods grappling with “McMansionization,” as many local officials and residents call the trend of modern, multi-story homes replacing small, older houses.
“As a longtime Sunset Park resident, I am completely dismayed by the proliferation of new and under construction megamansions,” Linda Manning wrote to the Planning Commission in June. “They are unsightly, monotonous, block neighbors’ views, sunlight and even airflow, and completely strip any privacy from neighbors’ houses and yards.”
The city’s planning staff have crafted the standards to make it more appealing to modify homes rather than tear them down by requiring additional parking if a house is rebuilt. Currently, parking requirements kick in when a house is expanded by more than 50%.
The new standards could oblige a property owner to enlarge or construct a new garage, relocate existing parking, add new parking if no parking currently exists and widen existing driveways. Staff said these “onerous” improvements are often impossible for older homes or drive up construction costs.
The standards also relax parking requirements in single-family neighborhoods overall.
Currently, those four neighborhoods are the only parts of the city where parking must be within an enclosed garage. If the house is next to an alley, the garage must be on the rear half of the lot.
City staff is proposing eliminating garages as a requirement and allowing parking to be located behind the facade of a house.
While garages may be on the way out, the standards would encourage a different type of structure outside the main house.
Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, have been heralded as a solution to the state’s housing crisis. Homeowners build the structures in their backyards and rent them out, providing inexpensive housing in single-family neighborhoods without changing their character.
The standards would relax some specifications that make ADUs difficult to build in Santa Monica. It would also continue the precedent set by the temporary standards by exempting ADUs from total lot coverage calculations, so homeowners could build them without worrying about running up against lot coverage limits. Under the proposed standards, a two-story home could only cover 50% of a lot, reduced from 61% previously.
There would also be new specifications for height, setbacks and outdoor space.
The temporary standards set a limit of 28 feet for single-family homes, which the new standards would maintain for lots smaller than 20,000 square feet. For larger lots, buildings with flat roofs could be up to 28 feet and buildings with pitched roofs could be up to 38 feet.
The specifications for the upper stories of homes would remain the same, but would start at the second story instead of at 14 feet in height. The individual square footage of upper-story balconies, terraces and roof decks would not exceed 300 square feet at the most.
Second stories could cover 25% of the lot under the proposed standards, which is 5% larger than what the temporary standards allow.
“The proposed increased upper-story stepback requirements … balances this increase and helps control the second-story massing,” staff wrote. “The increase to the second-story parcel coverage also provides more design and space programming flexibility which was desired based on public input.”
The Planning Commission will meet August 7 at 6 p.m. in City Hall, 1685 Main St.