Don’t be the Realtor that supports McMansions

In the arguments against McMansions and mansionization, even real estate agents can get caught up in the issue:

Of course, Reni Rose was not the only Arcadia dwelling Realtor to sign a petition designed to promote predatory McMansionization in the Arcadia Highlands. Here are the others:

Song Liem    1141 Oakwood Dr.
Jeffrey Bowen  1919 Wilson Ave.
Darlene Bowen  1919 Wilson Ave.
Ash Rizk   1204 Oakwood Dr.
Nivine Rizk  1204 Oakwood Dr.
Mark Cheng  1741  Oakwood Ave.
Alan Black  238 Hillgreen Place
Ruth Black  238 Hillgreen Place

You might want to consider their support for the mansionization of the Arcadia Highlands when looking for your next Realtor. We have scans of their petition signatures as well. If you would like copies for your own files pop me an email and I’ll send them your way…

The bad news here is that the Henry A. Darling home (we will persist in calling it that despite the sanitized language used in the latest listing), is once agains in the hands of a real estate agent who obviously does not have a problem with McMansions.

I don’t know how often those in real estate are asked about their stances toward particular properties or planned developments. Would it be good for business to publicly support one side or another? It might if there is a large business base at play but I feel like I don’t often see such public statements. Instead, wouldn’t real estate agents want to be “neutral” toward clients as any business is good business? Getting too involved in local politics could end up being problematic if the tide turns or if it limits future business opportunities. So, perhaps these realtors shouldn’t have signed a public petition at all, even if they felt it was promoting the rights of property owners which could be perceived as good for business.

This is another example of how politicized McMansions can be. Discussions don’t just involve local policymakers who could place restrictions on teardowns or new developments but can also come to pit neighbors against each other as well as involve local businesspeople.

Continued mansionization debates in Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Times reports that controversy over mansionization in Los Angeles continues as the city struggles to develop guidelines that will please residents:

Los Angeles leaders say they want to tighten restrictions on mansionization, but citywide fixes are expected to take at least 18 months to allow for repeated hearings and environmental review, according to city officials…

Local politicians and planning officials say that L.A.’s rules against mansionization — meant to prevent bloated houses from being built on modest lots — have fallen short. The restrictions, put in place six years ago, curb the size of new and renovated homes based on lot size. But the rules also include “bonuses” of 20% or 30% more space than otherwise allowed…

In the meantime, city planners have suggested temporary rules to curb demolitions and give residents “breathing room” in neighborhoods that have mobilized against mansionization, including Sunset Square, Studio City and North Beverly Grove.

The Los Angeles chapter of the Building Industry Assn. is worried about those moves, saying that the temporary restrictions could “result in a flurry of lawsuits.” Homeowners have not been given enough warning about the restrictions, which “will immediately remove property owner rights,” the group’s chief executive, Tim Piasky, said.

Planning officials say the temporary restrictions would immediately address the problem in mansionization hot spots: desirable areas with older, smaller homes targeted for teardowns…

“It creates a situation of haves and have-nots,” said Traci Considine, whose Faircrest Heights neighborhood has been recommended to get temporary curbs on home demolitions. “If you do a few Band-Aids for a few select neighborhoods, the target is just bigger on the backs of the neighborhoods that aren’t protected.

Los Angeles is a big city so having city-wide regulations could be quite difficult. Austin passed a noted anti-McMansion ordinance but the city has 885,000 people in 272 square miles while LA has 3.88 million residents in 503 square miles. In addition to size differences, real estate in California is huge: the housing market is still quite pricey so limiting the ability of property owners to cash out is a bigger restriction than in the cheaper Austin market.

I would guess that the long-term solution is different guidelines for different neighborhoods in accordance with what residents desire. Yes, this might push the mansionizers to different neighborhoods. But, this is how communities often tackle this problem.

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.

Asking residents of Burbank, CA about their thoughts on mansionization

A recent survey in Burbank, California asked residents about possible mansionization in the city:

A new survey of residents in Burbank, California, is trying to quantify some of this local frustration. Using images of seemingly out-of-place new houses within the city’s older neighborhoods, the online poll tries to get at both the “gut reactions” that city residents have to these “mansionized” houses and their overall willingness to create new laws to control the growth of house size.

Burbank last limited the size of new home construction in 2005, when it reduced the ratio of house square footage to total lot size, from 0.6 to 0.4. But even these new regulations allow for homes far larger than the average size across the city, according to Carol Barrett, the city’s assistant director for planning and transportation. She says the poll is designed to gauge the community’s interest in creating further size restrictions, as well as new guidelines for architectural style and building materials.

“It’s not just an issue that the houses are bigger,” Barrett says. Another important question, she explains, would be: “Is it just a giant box with some precast concrete stuck on for a little decorative design, or does it have a specific architectural character?”

All of this could be seen as largely a matter of taste. But the awkward images in the survey, of giant, Spanish-style mini-mansions dwarfing the decades-old bungalows and ranch houses next door are awfully convincing. Below are some of the most telling images from the survey, which Barrett culled from suggestions from local citizen groups like Preserve Burbank and coworkers in city hall.

I like the idea of a survey about mansionization. Here are a few thoughts on such a survey:

1. Having a decent survey response rate might be the biggest issue. Getting a representative sample from a city of just over 100,000 people is not necessarily easy. On one hand, people have more survey fatigue but, on the other hand, suburbanites tend to take threats to their neighborhoods and property values very seriously.

2. Linking people’s “gut reactions” to particular policy changes is an important step. I suspect, based on the pictures shown, people would respond fairly negatively to mansionization. But, there are a number of ways this could be addressed. It sounds like the survey asks about several policy options to limit houses; I wonder if there are a few residents who would argue for property rights (and the ability to make lots of money when selling their property).

3. The pictures included in the survey are very helpful: people need to see exactly what such houses might look like rather than imagine what might be the case. However, the particular pictures might influence responses as mansionziation can take multiple forms.

I would be really curious to see how residents respond.