BELL — All the Deschuytters wanted was a second story atop their small, two-bedroom home.
The beige stucco-and-tile-roof home felt cramped with closets that could hold only half of their clothes and a dining room with little space to accommodate guests.
With two sons, ages 2 and 3, the Deschuytters felt that they had to expand; and since their backyard was small, they decided to build up instead of out.
That decision, they say, has led to their being ostracized in a tract of homes known as the "Bel-Air of Bell."
Now, life on Prospect Avenue may never be the same.
"Neighbors won't even talk to me. What have I done? I have become a pariah," said Ludo Deschuytter, a high school English teacher.
In recent months, the second-story controversy in the Deschuytters' neighborhood--an area commonly known as the Nowell tract for developer Silas Nowell, who built the homes in the late 1930s--has brought protesting neighbors to Planning Commission and council meetings. Finally, the council promised last week to ban any more second stories in the residential zone. An ordinance outlawing further second-story additions and setting a height limit of 15 feet is scheduled to be introduced Dec. 1.
If adopted, Bell will become one of two cities in Los Angeles County--Rancho Palos Verdes is the other--that will not allow second-story additions in single-family residential zones.
The Deschuytters were the second family to ask for a second story in recent months. A house on Mayflower Avenue received approval in July, and the Deschuytters followed with their request.
The neighbors gathered 100 signatures against the proposal, so the council invoked a moratorium on such additions in August. But the couple persuaded the council to allow them to continue, arguing that they had already spent money on plans for the addition with assurances from city staff members that the addition would be legal.
View of Sunset
Many residents say they oppose second stories in the tract--which contains 255 homes--because they will reduce their privacy, obstruct their view of the sunset and change the continuity of the homes.
"There is atmosphere, peace and tranquility in this neighborhood," said Kristine Boyer, a resident on Prospect Avenue, who said second-story additions would bring greater density that would cause more noise, overloaded sewers and blackouts during peak power usage.
Those who live in the homes--situated in a small enclave near Atlantic and Florence avenues--say the area is special and should be kept that way.
"Everybody likes it just the way it is," said Russell Cogar, owner of Western Realty in Bell. Cogar, who lives in Huntington Park, bought homes for his two daughters in the tract.
"If they want to change it, don't live there. Don't buy," said Cogar. "Do anything else in other parts of Bell, but . . . don't touch the Nowell tract. That's the way all these owners feel."
Cogar said he even considered going to the federal government to petition that the tract be designated a historical monument because he thinks that it's one of the first subdivisions built in the country.
He said that while none of the Spanish-style homes is identical, they have recurring features that could be ruined by the addition of second stories. "They're all conforming, but not uniform," Cogar said, adding that a two-bedroom house could sell for about $100,000 to 120,000; three-bedroom homes sell for $120,000 to $140,000.
'This Is Americana'
"This is Americana. This is the roots of the city of Bell. People don't like their part of Americana being changed," said Cogar. "If I took a torch to the Statue of Liberty, I bet you somebody would try to stop me."
Mayor George Cole--as did other council members--agreed that the Nowell tract should be preserved since it's the only area in Bell developed by a single developer.
"Even in remodeling the first story, the conformity can be disrupted," Cole said, adding that he sees the city's action as a move toward controlling the density of the city.
Moreover, the city has few single-family residential areas and cannot afford to let them become overrun with second-story additions and more people, Cole said.
About 4,000 out of 9,400 of the housing units in Bell are single-family dwellings. But only 530 of those units are located in the residential zone, which restricts multiple rentals, said David Meyer, director of community development.
Although his own permit had been approved, Ludo Deschuytter last week argued before the City Council in favor of letting other homeowners have the option of adding a second story to their homes.
"Consider the person down the line who may like to upgrade his home," he said. The couple countered with a petition drive of their own and collected 53 signatures of people who are not opposed to allowing second stories.