Mansionization picks up again in Los Angeles

The construction of larger homes has picked up again in Los Angeles, drawing attention from a number of critics:

But as the housing market rebounds and construction picks up, many homeowners complain that “mansionization” has revved up — reigniting long-standing policy battles and sometimes bitter fence fights over the face and feel of L.A.’s neighborhoods…

But neighborhood groups have begun mobilizing, asserting that rules meant to control building sizes are still too porous. Critics argue that builders have exploited loopholes — bonuses that allow extra square footage — to erect homes too large for their lots. The recent surge of complaints prompted Michael LoGrande, director of the Department of City Planning, to tell lawmakers that more stringent controls might be needed…

For decades there was “kind of a consensus about what a Southern California house should look like” — low, rambling and open to the landscape, cultural historian D.J. Waldie said. That philosophy, along with requirements imposed by builders, gave rise to uniform neighborhoods lined with homes of similar sizes and styles, Waldie said.

But in a growing city with scant undeveloped land and changing tastes, some Angelenos see things differently. They look at older neighborhoods and think, “‘this is where the good life is lived,'” Waldie said. “‘But I don’t want to live in a 1,300-square-foot house.'”

Los Angeles isn’t the only major city that has dealt with this issue in recent years (see Austin, Texas) as ideas about housing as well as economic conditions change. And the battle lines in Los Angeles seem fairly similar to debates elsewhere: residents of existing communities do not like new behemoth houses (often labeled McMansions) that don’t match the architectural style of the community while proponents of the bigger houses argue they should be able to have modern features. Local ordinances tend to try to give some to each side, setting design guidelines or limits that don’t restrict the construction of new homes but limit how they might use their property or differ from nearby homes. It should be no surprise that individual homes, perhaps the seat of American individualism, should exemplify this classic issue – individual property rights versus the wishes of the community – that is one of the core issues running through the 235+ years of the United States.

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