LONG BEACH — Side by side on Santa Ana Avenue in Belmont Shore, Jack Berutich's dream house and Mark Swales' retirement cottage are examples of the high and the low of a controversy over dwelling heights that has festered in Alamitos Bay communities for years.
Swales and Berutich, next-door neighbors since 1978, like one another. Each says the other is a good neighbor.
But Swales and Berutich differ sharply on rival height-limit proposals now before the City Council.
Swales favors a standard that would effectively limit Belmont Shore residences to two stories and keep his bungalow from being dwarfed on all sides. Berutich, who recently completed a three-story remodeling, thinks such construction is a boon to the community.
The two men's positions reflect the split between homeowners that has occurred in Belmont Shore and Naples.
And their dispute is one that, according to City Planning Director Robert Paternoster, "is not a matter of right or wrong. It's so difficult because there are no villains.
"Changing to three-story does change the character of the area," the planner added, "but there's nothing to say that the new character will be better or worse."
Swales, 71, said he thinks the change, which has already begun, is clearly worse and should be stopped.
He came to "The Shore," an upscale beach community, 20 years ago, looking for a place to live quietly and then retire from his boilermaker's job at Todd Pacific Shipyards.
Berutich, 43, manager of a wholesale lumber yard, moved to the community in 1968, rented for 10 years, then bought the house next to Swales'.
Until 1984, the two houses sat as virtual twin cottages--Spanish-styled with red-tile roofs, similar to many homes in the area.
Then, after much saving and planning, a marriage and a child, Berutich and his wife, Vicki, plunked down $100,000 and transformed their cottage into a tiered, 3,000-square-foot, three-story house.
"When I first bought the house, I bought it with this dream in mind," said Berutich.
Thirty feet high, the Berutich home now towers over the Swales house, and Mark and Olive Swales don't like that at all.
Their home, always bright, is much darker, they said. Their privacy is lost. The ocean breeze partially blocked.
"They have two kiddies now, a boy and a girl," said Swales, a small, bespectacled man who speaks with a Scottish brogue.
"They wanted more room and you can't blame them," he said, "but I don't like him cutting my daylight out. It makes you feel as if you want to get away from it and out into the country where you can breathe."
'Dingy and Dark'
Things were crowded before on Santa Ana Avenue's tiny 35-by-80-foot lots, Swales said. Now, the Berutich home, looming nearly overhead (just six feet separate the houses), makes it seem much more so, he said.
"The bedroom that used to be sunny and bright is all dingy and dark. We don't have any rights here any more," said Olive Swales, 70.
Berutich is sympathetic.
"We were concerned about the Swaleses. They're very dear friends, and we thought, 'Will they feel boxed in? Yeah, they will.' And that's a sad thing to do to your neighbors. But, then, it comes down to your family or your neighbor."
In remodeling, Berutich was careful to retain the home's Spanish style and tried to lessen its visual impact with facade setbacks on each of the top two levels, he said. Indeed, from the front, the home does not appear much larger than several with two stories on the same block.
Enlarging his home, Berutich said, enabled him to replace an unusable "half-car" garage with one for two cars, an important consideration in an area where on-street parking is tight. And, Berutich said, it certainly has enhanced property values in the area.
Living Space for Family
The remodeling also gave his young family the living space it had to have, Berutich said. Construction cost so much "we toyed with the idea of building two-story instead of three-story. But we decided we'd just move rather than do that because the children wouldn't have had an adequate place to play."
With the third story, they have a large family room and sun deck for play, he said.
But Mark Swales looks up at his neighbor's house and fears that the owner of the two-story home on his other side will also add a third story.
"If that happens," he said, "it'll be like a dungeon here."
Berutich said he understands that fear.
"My heart goes out to some of them who want to stay if they're unfortunate enough to have larger homes built on both sides," he said. "But there's not that much difference between two-story and three-story. And we can't stop progress. . . . People don't like change, but all change is not bad."