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When a Home Truly Is a Castle : Construction: Officials in Pasadena weigh new rules to control building of multistory homes on small lots, a practice called 'mansionization.'


PASADENA — City officials are seeking ways to control "mansionization," a phenomenon that has led other San Gabriel Valley communities to tighten their building codes.

In April, a moratorium was adopted in Pasadena on construction of certain multistory homes, and since then city planners have wrestled with ways of curbing the trend toward construction of multistory homes on small lots. The problem had earlier prompted Arcadia and San Gabriel to impose tighter building codes.

Tuesday, Pasadena City Directors heard from architects, homeowners and realtors on two proposed sets of rules. A vote is scheduled Feb. 19.

Under the strict rules proposed by the city's Planning Department, houses on lots zoned for single-family homes would be restricted to 30% of the square footage of the lot, plus 500 square feet. The maximum height would be 32 feet, and a minimum 10-foot setback would be required on the sides of the house for the second story or any part of the house taller than 12 feet.

Under existing laws, first-floor setbacks vary from five to 10 feet, depending on the size of the lot.

The city Planning Commission recommended less-strict rules that would permit an additional 1,000 square feet instead of 500. The commission recommended a 35-foot maximum height and proposed a more complex formula for determining side setbacks.

The proposed rules apply only to lots in flat areas. Hillside regulations are being developed separately.

Some speakers Tuesday said the new rules would prevent architects from creating the type of landmark buildings that now grace Pasadena.

"I feel if you get too restrictive, you're going to lose the creative spirit to make something nice," Pasadena resident Scott Klar said. "A homeowner and a designer are going to need freedom to do what they need on the lot."

Glendale architect Robert Berman agreed. "You can't legislate this sort of thing," he said. "If you want to destroy Pasadena, just pass the Planning Department staff recommendations."

But Director Rick Cole called the charge that the rules would prevent creativity a phantom issue.

"The problem is not a lot of exquisite, beautiful homes," Cole said. "We have ugly, garish houses being built that loom over the light and space of their neighbors."

Architect Robert Tyler said the Pasadena Foothill chapter of the American Institute of Architects supports the Planning Commission recommendations. The tighter rules proposed by the city staff would not allow a 3,020-square-foot home, the median size of new homes today, to be built on a 7,200-square-foot lot, he said.

But Cole said such a home is nearly double the size of his own house and bigger than 900 homes in his area.

Cliff Benedict, a member of the Lower Hastings Ranch Neighborhood Assn., said different criteria should exist for different lot sizes and for neighborhoods dominated by single-story homes.

City Director Kathryn Nack, an architect, agreed. She proposed allowing 40% lot coverage and a height of 35 feet for lots larger than 20,000 square feet.

Until a new ordinance is adopted, a moratorium remains in effect on lots zoned for single-family homes. The moratorium restricts building heights to 27 feet and second-story square footage to 50% of the first story square footage.

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