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Question for Council: Is Bigger Better in Beverly Hills?

February 05, 1989|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

When Penny Bloch and Robert J. White bought their home on South Palm Drive, they had no idea that their block of Spanish-style bungalows would become the scene of house-by-house fighting for the future look of Beverly Hills.

The battle is not limited to South Palm Drive. Starting with the construction of two bulky mansions on a hillside over Coldwater Canyon three years ago, a trend of building big houses has spread to many blocks across the city, often to neighbors' dismay.

"Across the street, down the street and farther down the block, people are tearing down these nice little Spanish houses and building these huge square blocks," Bloch said. "They're so big that people think they're apartment houses."

While residents like Bloch feel that such houses will ruin the character of their neighborhoods, others say city zoning rules should let people make the most of their properties.

"I don't think anyone can keep things the way they are," said Shelley Kravit, a homeowner in the southeast sector of the city. "We're getting more families with children, and families require more rooms. We should not be deprived of homes that are sufficient for our needs just because we live in the southeast of Beverly Hills."

Public Hearing

The issue, which has been argued before the Beverly Hills Planning Commission for more than a year, goes before the City Council next week, when a public hearing will be held on sweeping new changes in the city's zoning ordinance.

"The public has been telling us that these houses are too big and we need to limit them," said MeraLee Goldman, chairwoman of the Planning Commission.

Under the new rules, she said, "you will be able to build yourself quite a house, one that's suited to the neighborhood, without coming in to apply for anything special. If you want to do something unique, you can do it (by appearing before a special board). We think, we hope, that we've met the needs of all the community and that's why we're so enthusiastic."

In a report to the council, the Planning Commission said that people want to build bigger houses not only to make room for computers, exercise equipment and other accouterments of the modern life style, but also because land prices have been soaring. Planners said that many purchasers of lots that cost more than $1 million feel that they are not getting their money's worth if they can't build a luxurious home on the site.

"This trend, however, is often in conflict with the existing neighborhood fabric in terms of heights, setbacks (the required distance that houses must be set back from streets, alleys and neighboring homes), landscaping, driveway patterns and bulk, as well as the availability of light, air and privacy," the report said.

"While some controls appear to be necessary, it is also desirable to encourage personal expression and variety."

To that end, city planners are proposing a sliding scale that will limit the floor space of single-family homes. Houses on smaller lots will be limited to 1,500 square feet plus no more than 35% of the lot size, while those on bigger properties will be limited to 1,500 square feet plus no more than 40% of the lot size.

Smaller lots are defined as those that are less than 50 feet wide or do not have a driveway on one side.

An interim ordinance now in effect limits construction to no more than 55% of lot size.

"This is a sliding scale that allows a larger percentage of house on a smaller lot, but scales it down a bit on larger lots," said Alan E. Berlin, chairman of the board of governors of the Beverly Hills Municipal League.

He said the residents organization has endorsed the proposal because "we don't want (the city) to look like a row of brownstone houses in New York, for example. We want to maintain the greenery, the beauty, the setbacks and the privacy which are inherent in Beverly Hills houses."

Kenneth A. Goldman, a representative of the newly founded Southwest Beverly Hills Homeowners Assn., agreed, saying that those who oppose the ordinance would like to see 6,000-square-foot homes built on the small lots in the south of the city "and that's simply absurd."

"Sure, there's a demand for bigger houses. Hey, I'd like a yacht," Goldman said. "But for someone on a small lot to say you've discriminated against me because a guy up north (in areas of the city where lots are larger) can have a 6,000-square-foot house and I can't, that's a non sequitur. If you want to have a home, it has to be in sync with the size of your lot."

But Kravit said that those who live on the smaller lots of south Beverly Hills are already deprived of privacy, and that more space indoors is essential.

While the proposed guidelines would limit floor space in her area to 3,900 square feet for a typical house, she said that 4,500 square feet would be more desirable. She said at least 75 residents organized in a group called the 90211 Organization, named after their ZIP code, support her position.

While two-story houses have replaced one-story bungalows on her street, the block now looks better because the original houses were 60 years old and many of them were in need of repair, she said.

Another group, called the Committee to Save the South Part of Beverly Hills, also plans to argue for the right to build bigger houses.

The proposed limit for smaller lots "adversely impacts choices regarding size of family, the nature of life style and the security of financial investment," its recommendation to the City Council said.

They asked for a maximum of 4,000 to 6,600 square feet depending on lot size.

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