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L.A Moves To Tighten Rules On 'Mansionization'

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A "McMansion" in L.A. (Photo by Suzanne Danziger via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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City council voted unanimously on Wednesday to have City Attorney Mike Feuer re-write two city ordinances that regulate the size of new, single-family homes, reports the L.A. Times.

If written in and passed, the guidelines will mandate that the square-footage of a new construction can't be more than 45% of the lot's space—this cuts back on the 50% that was formerly allowed. Also, the new rules would do away with certain provisions that allow a property owner to bypass space restrictions—specifically, it axes an option in which a property owner can go 20% above the limit if they can verify that their homes are eco-friendly. The ordinances were first put in place in 2008, but this new effort to rewrite them comes after residents have complained that the rules were too lenient. Critics said that, for one thing, the ordinances didn't apply to certain portions of a home, like an attached garage.

Officials expect the new proposals to be voted on early next year.

The effort is aimed, of course, on cutting down the "mansionization" of L.A. homes. As the economy has picked up, and L.A. is once again a hot destination spot (one that isn't quite as priced-out as San Francisco or NYC), locals claim that real estate redevelopers have been buying up properties and replacing them with larger homes to max their value. An op-ed in the Times noted that, from 2005 to 2015, 57,224,810 square feet of new construction had been added in R1 zones (which are reserved for single-family homes) in Los Angeles.

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The main arguments against mansionization generally fall under two categories. Opponents say that, for one thing, the new homes are a threat to the aesthetic history of a neighborhood. The new "McMansions" may fly in the face of a neighborhood that is generally populated with modest-sized, single-family residences. And the designs may be incongruent with a block that is more familiar with, say, Tudor Revival homes. The second argument is that, by building bigger properties to rack up the price, real estate developers are contributing to a rampant housing problem that is plaguing Los Angeles (the average Angeleno pays more than the recommended 30% of their income on housing).

The phenomenon of mansionization is not exclusive to the city of L.A., of course. Complaints have been lobbed in areas like the west San Gabriel Valley as well, as the growing number of wealthy Chinese have been buying up properties in the region (which has large Asian populations). Earlier this year, Arcadia passed an ordinance that cut down on the square-footage on homes, with some detractors saying that the act of mansionization has been misconstrued through cultural differences. Arcadia councilmember Sho Tay told KPCC that it’s common for Asian families to have extended-family members stay with them, which necessitates the need for more space. Karthick Ramakrishnan, director of the National Asian American Survey, told the Pasadena Star-News that, “Some of these newer, wealthy residents have a different aesthetic sense of what a house and yard should look like,” and added that it “might be rooted in racial or cultural differences in terms of what a wealthy house should look like.”