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Los Angeles, California's Baseline Mansionization Ordina...

Los Angeles, California's Baseline Mansionization Ordinance Loophole Fix

Throughout Los Angeles, communities are changing due to a phenomenon dubbed “mansionization,” which the LA City Planning Department defines as “… new construction or additions on residentially zoned lots that are out-of-scale with the surrounding neighborhood, but which comply with the current City zoning regulations.” Simply put, many homeowners are outraged that their communities are changing

Example of a McMansion in Greenwich, Connecticut

Throughout Los Angeles, communities are changing due to a phenomenon dubbed “mansionization,” which the LA City Planning Department defines as "... new construction or additions on residentially zoned lots that are out-of-scale with the surrounding neighborhood, but which comply with the current City zoning regulations.” Simply put, many homeowners are outraged that their communities are changing due to the replacement of smaller, quainter homes with large mansions that don’t seem to fit the neighborhood vibe. These new houses are being called out as “McMansions," “Hummer Houses," and “Kleenex boxes."

Homeowners are upset that the new houses bring adverse effects, such as blocking sunlight from adjacent homes, upsetting neighbors’ privacy, and generally ruining the character and charm of communities. However, proponents of the mansionization phenomenon argue that bigger houses are needed to meet the demands of modern families. In addition, they argue that having bigger houses increases the property value of nearby homes.

Smaller homes surrounded by McMansions in Greenwich, Connecticut

In 2008, the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance (BMO) was drafted as a way to combat mansionization, but the recent resurgence of giant houses is indicative of the many loopholes present in existing legislature. The most common problem with the BMO is that construction projects that incorporate specific architectural changes could qualify for additional space. For example, developers could add 20% more space to a house if it were LEED certified. Developers quickly took advantage of these architectural incentives, rendering the BMO as essentially ineffective.

Fast forward to 2014, and we can see that new legislation addressing mansionization is slow to come by. Councilmember Paul Koretz authored a new ordinance to remove BMO loopholes, and the Department of City Planning’s response was to replace the ordinance with an intensive two-year work program to smooth out the kinks of new mansionization policies. Time is an important factor for new legislation as it’s been estimated that nine months since Councilmember Koretz’s amendment proposal, approximately 1,000 older homes have already been demolished to make way for mansions. And while the interim rules created by Councilmember Koretz may serve to stop mansionization projects in the short term, they still remain problematic in the long term.

Do you think masionization is a problem? How do you feel about ordinances that restrict architectural freedom? Share your thoughts and city's stories in the comments area below.

Credits: Images by Victor Tran. Data linked to sources.

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Victor Tran is a recent graduate from the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at McGill University, located in Montreal, Quebec. His post-graduate travels have brought him to Los Angeles, California where he works for a non-profit o...

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