The city council will soon finalize regulations that seek to preserve existing homes in Santa Monica’s single-family neighborhoods.
The city’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 renovating homes rather than replacing them in response to complaints from residents that the new mansions have fundamentally altered their neighborhoods.
“Some of the houses built recently in Sunset Park … seem out of scale with lot size and adjacent homes, diminish privacy, block the light of neighboring homes and are, in some cases, repetitive in style and character,” Zina Josephs, president of the neighborhood organization Friends of Sunset Park, wrote in an email to the Planning Commission.
On Wednesday, the Planning Commission voted that the city council adopt standards that aim to preserve the character of single-family neighborhoods, which will replace a set of temporary standards the city council passed last February expire in November.
The commission recommended reducing the size of homes relative to their lots. New one-story homes would cover 50% of the lot and new two-story homes would cover 45%. Homeowners remodeling their existing home could cover up to 55% of their lot.
“People are concerned about privacy, and if we want to discourage people from looking into each other’s yards, then let’s encourage single-story houses,” said Commissioner Elisa Paster.
The standards make it more appealing to renovate homes rather than tear them down by requiring homeowners to add new parking if they rebuild their house. Currently, parking requirements kick in when a house is expanded by more than 50%.
But the standards relax other parking requirements in single-family neighborhoods, which 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.
The commission recommended 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, which homeowners build in their backyards and rent out. In Santa Monica, the structures may be up to 800 square feet.
The commission recommended relaxing some specifications that make ADUs difficult to build and 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.
“To me, ADUs are a pretty painless way to help solve partially the housing crisis we’re facing,” said Commissioner Leslie Lambert. “We should all be on board with that.”
The development standard also include new specifications that regulate building height, the proximity of buildings to the edges of their lots and the size of outdoor spaces, such as decks.
The temporary standards set to expire in December 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 32 feet.
The individual square footage of upper-story balconies, terraces and roof decks could not exceed 300 square feet and would have to be set back at least seven feet from the edge of the lot.
Second stories could cover 25% of the lot under the proposed standards, which is 5% larger than what the temporary standards allow.
The council will vote on the development standards Sept. 24. The commission recommended letting the new standards take effect Jan. 1.
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that pitched roofs could be up to 38 feet under the proposed development standards. In fact, pitched roofs could be up to 32 feet.