The West Hollywood City Council last night approved a change in the zoning ordinance for West Hollywood West intended to halt construction of so-called “big box” houses in that neighborhood.
The zoning change and accompanying design guidelines, developed by the city’s Community Development Department and consultants SWA Group and Page & Trumbull, are meant to ensure that the mass, scale and proportion of new buildings or major additions to existing buildings in the neighborhood complement those of existing houses. The goal, according to the department, is to preserve the eclectic character of the neighborhood’s housing. The guidelines will apply only to West Hollywood West, which is bounded by Melrose Avenue on the north, Beverly Boulevard on the south, La Cienega Boulevard on the east and Doheny Drive on the west. It consists largely of single-family or duplex buildings built in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Council agreed to revisit the matter in 18 months to see how the zoning change and guidelines are working. That decision was in response to concerns raised by some residents about a provision that would require hedges to be set back at least 18 inches from a property line and questions raised about a ban on covered parking and whether permitting construction of an additional smaller building on a lot would lead to it being rented illegally.
In April the Council placed a moratorium on construction of new houses in the neighborhood. That moratorium was designed to give the city’s Community Development Department time to consider a way to address complaints by residents that developers were constructing massive houses out of character with those already existing. While there had been only two applications in 2010 and 2011 to construct new houses in the neighborhood, the number has grown rapidly, with 10 approved and another 10 under review in 2013.
Many of the new buildings were what residents called “big box” houses, a term that describes buildings designed to maximize the amount of square feet available on a site with little concern for its appearance.
New construction in the area must meet the following standards:
1) If a new building is two stories or more than 15 feet in height, the floor area of the second floor not be greater than 75 percent of the floor area of the first floor and that the front and sides of the building not be a single solid plane.
2) The roof of a building not be a single unbroken plane, but have a vertical or horizontal change of direction at least three feet long. This requirement would prevent construction of buildings whose straight horizontal rooflines make them resemble boxes.
3) Balconies on the side of a building may not be larger than 80 square feet and to the rear no larger than 144 square feet. Side balconies that are within five feet of the maximum allowed perimeter of the building must have a privacy screen. Neighborhood residents have complained that balconies on the sides and rear of some new houses seem to intrude on the privacy of their neighbors, given the relatively small size of the lots in the area.