Beverly Hills is cracking down on a construction boom that is threatening the rustic character of the hillside neighborhoods behind Sunset Boulevard.
The City Council last week passed an ordinance limiting development in the exclusive Trousdale Estates area, and it is expected to consider a similar law for an adjacent neighborhood in the next few weeks.
The laws are in response to the growing number of tennis courts, swimming pools and sun decks that have become standard features for many well-to-do homeowners who recently have moved into the area.
As the average size of homes over the years has increased and the backyards have become smaller, residents in the neighborhoods have found ways to get more uses out of the remaining land by extending tennis courts and swimming pools over slopes that would otherwise be unusable. The decks are usually supported by concrete pillars or retaining walls.
Longtime Residents Upset
The practice may make good economic sense, but it is upsetting a large number of longtime residents, many of whom moved to the area to escape crowding and overdevelopment. They complain that the structures are ugly, obstruct views and could prove disastrous to those living below if an earthquake hits.
"When I moved here from New York six years ago, it was one of the prettiest streets," resident Myra Waldo said of Calle Vista Drive. "Then they started demolishing houses and building these really monstrous things. It's just an ugly scene."
Although Waldo's property sits high enough on a slope that her view is not threatened by structures below, anything built behind her lot would hang precariously over a steep bluff that is only several feet from the back of her house. A few houses up the street, a large tennis court extends straight out from a sloping property, creating an eyesore and a potential safety hazard to those living nearby, Waldo said.
Across the street from Waldo, a two-story home with an extending deck area is under construction, and at least four other homes nearby are either being built or are undergoing extensive remodeling, she said.
"They (the new homes) don't allow any room for trees or any greenery, so you just have these concrete slabs," she said.
Last week, Waldo and another Calle Vista resident, Jan Brockway, presented the Beverly Hills City Council with a petition bearing signatures of 28 homeowners who are upset about development in the neighborhood. In response, the council instructed city planners to draft a temporary ordinance that would require homeowners to obtain special permits for most structures that extend over slopes.
Such a law would strengthen an existing ordinance that requires homeowners to get a permit for any construction on a slope more than 30 feet from the edge of a house.
The council will vote on the temporary ordinance in the next few weeks, Mayor Benjamin H. Stansbury Jr. said. It will take up to two years before a permanent law is drawn up, he said.
14-Foot Height Limit
In a separate action, the council last Tuesday unanimously passed a law restricting construction in the Trousdale Estates neighborhood, east of the area described in the proposed ordinance. The Trousdale ordinance imposes a 14-foot height limit on future homes and bans structures that extend over slopes. Trousdale Estates is bounded by Doheny and Schuyler roads and Loma Vista Drive and Evelyn Place.
The law capped 2 1/2 years of work by the Trousdale Homeowners Assn., which had gathered 385 signatures of people opposed to construction of more extended tennis courts and other cantilevered buildings in the exclusive neighborhood.
"There are a number of homes that have been built down the hills and they look like parking garages," said Pat Mitchell, a Trousdale Homeowners Assn. member who helped lead the effort for passage of the ordinance. "There's one on Robert Lane (in Trousdale Estates) that looks like the Trousdale Hilton. They were able to do all these things before the ordinance got put through."
The problem, according to City Councilwoman Donna Ellman, is that more people are moving into the area to take advantage of increasing property values. To get the best return on their investment, she said, the new residents are building larger homes and adding tennis courts, swimming pools and decks for which there is simply no room unless the structures are extended over sloping portions of properties.
Property Values Escalating
"For years, things had been status quo," she said. "But with property values continuing to escalate, we are getting uses that have never before been considered.
"In this day and age a man's house is literally becoming his castle, but we don't necessarily have lot sizes that can accommodate castles."
Ellman said the new structures could cause erosion and mud slides in addition to obstructing views.
While the city drafts a permanent ordinance for the Calle Vista neighborhood, Waldo and Brockway hope there will be no new eyesores to block their views.
"Calle Vista means 'street with a view,' " Brockway said. "And that's why most people bought up here in the first place."