A one-year building moratorium for small parcels in the Laurel Canyon area, signed Wednesday by Mayor Tom Bradley, will give the city time to deal with problems of fire safety, traffic and parking, according to a city planning official.
The City Council last week unanimously approved the moratorium, which is retroactive to May 15. The council has the option of extending the ban by six months.
A year "should give us enough time to prevent the building of large, four-story homes on lots designed originally for bungalows," said Lynell Washington, city planner. "We also want to eliminate the current tendency to build the houses on narrow, unpaved and substandard streets."
The moratorium applies to lots of less than 5,000 square feet in the Hollywood Hills area bounded generally by Outpost, Mulholland and Franklin Canyon drives and Sunset Boulevard and Franklin Avenue.
There are 1,111 such lots, 870 of which could be developed, that fall under the moratorium, Washington said.
"We must improve the problems of fire safety and traffic before allowing . . . development to take place," Washington said.
Building will be allowed on the lots if the completed project will not block terrific, the building covers no more than half of the property and does not exceed 30 feet in height and the property is located on a street that is paved, curved and at least 20 feet wide.
The moratorium was supported by the Coalition of Laurel Canyon Homeowners Assn., representing about 500 homeowners from Hilltop Associates, Wonderland Park Assn., Lookout Mountain Associates and the Laurel Canyon Area Assn.
James A. Nelson, coalition chairman, praised the vote, saying it was a breakthrough in gaining the attention of city agencies to longstanding problems in the Laurel Canyon area.
"This used to be a much more picturesque canyon than it is now," Nelson said. "Overbuilding has created a lot of nuisances, such as lack of parking and new houses built from lot line to lot line on tiny parcels. We simply cannot continue to ignore problems that have been getting worse for years."
Beginning in the 1970s, bungalows were replaced by full-sized homes without improvements to streets and sewers, Nelson said. Such changes were slowed when high interest rates stalled new development, he said.
"But when development started to pick up the last couple of years, the people started to complain," he said.
The moratorium was opposed by the Hillside Property Owners Assn, made up of nearly 200 owners of undeveloped property in the area.
Dick W. Poe, one of the association's six steering committee members, said the group will consider legal action to overturn the moratorium.
"Having lost the political battle," he said, "legal action may be our only option."
Poe said that his group resented being "pinned with the blame" for problems in the area. He maintained that development was unlikely to take place on any more than 100 to 150 of the lots affected by the moratorium.
"Most of the 1,111 lots cited by the city are integral parts of houses already built," Poe said. "Only a small portion of them are potential new building sites."
Poe acknowledged that access for firefighters and small streets are problems in the area.
But he said that "the problems do not require an immediate, isolated attack on a small number of property owners. We see the issue as one where the existing homeowners would like to maintain the empty lots next to them as green space. It is unfair for the owners of undeveloped property."
Poe's group argued that the moratorium was unconstitutional in light of a recent U. S. Supreme Court decision holding that property owners are entitled to compensation if government regulations prevent or drastically restrict them from developing their properties.
However, Asst. City Atty. Sharon Siedorf Cardenas said the court decision did not apply to the Laurel Canyon moratorium.
"We felt that the moratorium is a valid, temporary regulation to halt development while proper development standards could be established," she said.