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Potential building changes panned as too restrictive

by Robb Fulcher

Potential new restrictions on home building, designed in part to preserve the look of neighborhoods by limiting the "boxiness" of many new condominiums, are drawing fire from some as too restrictive.

As the possible rule changes are kicked around in planning commission workshops, the most heated criticism has focused on one possible change, which would require tiered setbacks of the top two stories of condo buildings and single-family homes in zones where condos are allowed.

That change, if eventually enacted by the city council, would require the front and back faces of the homes to be tiered back in their upper stories like a wedding cake. The second story would be set back four feet from the first story, and the third story would be set back seven feet from the second story.

Michael Keegan, a candidate for the council who owns a condo, said the rule change would severely limit the size of new homes for as many as 1,000 property owners.

"The rule changes will decrease the size of newly constructed homes on these lots by 20 percent. In a nutshell, these proposed rule changes, if enacted, will greatly reduce your home's potential value," said Keegan. He owns Manhattan Beach Bagel and Bread companies and is a non-practicing licensed general contractor and real estate broker.

Keegan said a south Hermosa neighbor of his would see a $240,000 drop in the purchase price of two new homes that could be built on his lot, because the rule would reduce the allowable size of the dwellings from 2,000 square feet to 1,600 square feet.

Gary Brutsch, a real estate agent and former councilman, pointed to a property he owns on Eighth Court. He said he would see a 500 square-foot reduction in the volume of a new home, which could stand at 3,000 square feet under current rules. He said tiered upper stories would reduce the ocean view as well, and a sale price of more than $1 million would drop to about $800,000.

But while critics complain that the rule changes would force developers to either reduce the number of rooms in a new home or to limit the rooms to unreasonably small sizes, reports from city officials paint a different picture.

A "worst-case" scenario -- presuming that a combination of undiluted restrictions is eventually enacted -- would reduce the floor areas of new condos by 3 percent to 12 percent, depending on the factors such as the size and configuration of the lot, according to a report by Associate Planner Ken Robertson.

Possible restrictions that have drawn less fire include increasing parking requirements by one half space in two-condo developments, and requiring more open space in building plans.

A report by Community Development Director Sol Blumenfeld recommends no change in the parking and open space requirements, and suggests modifications in the wedding cake idea.

Mayor Julie Oakes, who recommended studying the wedding cake idea, said that she is not committed to any of the rule changes.

"There are a number of ideas, a number of ways we can go," said Oakes, who is an architect.

"We want to keep units large enough to make sense, and hopefully make them less blocky on our narrow streets," she said. "...We want to make sure this is for the betterment of those who live here, not just for those who come in and develop things, and then leave."

Keegan said the council should send individual notices to what he has identified as 1,000 significantly affected property owners, warning them of the possible changes. The council is not legally required to do so because the study does not include the possibility of rezoning any land.

"What concerns me is that these proposed zoning rule changes are being attempted by the council without proper public notice," Keegan said. "Instead the planning commission is holding planning workshops which are not well publicized."

Councilman Sam Edgerton, who is running for reelection, said criticism of the workshops is driven by development interests.

"They don't really care about the community, they just want to jam more money down their pockets," Edgerton said. He said he favors the study, but is "not sold on the wedding cake look yet." ER

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