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Rules for Review of Home Plans Are Revised : Development: Council extends emergency measure, lowers threshold for hearings to houses of 15,000 square feet. Officials want time to consider complaints over proposed 46,000-square-foot mansion.


BEVERLY HILLS — In the city of mansions, some people may be wondering just how small a house they will have to settle for to avoid the glare of public scrutiny.

On Tuesday, the Beverly Hills City Council once again changed the rules for building a hillside home, lowering the threshold for public review to 15,000 square feet.

As part of a nearly yearlong extension of a city urgency measure, hillside property owners who want to build homes of more than 15,000 square feet will have to go through public hearings to gain approval.

The city's hillside ordinance approved last year placed the threshold for public review at 25,000 square feet. In August, the City Council voted for an urgency ordinance requiring that basements be included in calculating square footage for the first time, which made public review necessary for smaller homes. Tuesday's extension of the ordinance, set to expire Sept. 24, also requires basements to be included in the floor-area measurements. It exempts a home's crawl space, 300 square feet of basement space for mechanical equipment and 1,600 square feet for subterranean garages.

Councilman Allan Alexander acknowledged Tuesday that the urgency measure is intended to allow time for the Planning Commission to reconsider some of the issues that emerged during recent public hearings on a 46,000-square-feet estate proposed by part-time resident Robert Manoukian for his Tower Road property. Even though it had gained commission approval, the estate was turned down by the council on appeal last month after Manoukian's neighbors launched a campaign-style offensive that galvanized citywide opposition to the project.

The council agreed in a unanimous vote Tuesday to extend the urgency measure to Aug. 9.

The new requirements will be in place while the city's Planning Commission reviews whether basements should be permanently included in calculating floor area, and what the threshold should be for mandatory public review.

Several council members said they were lowering the public review threshold to 15,000 square feet while the measure is in effect because the majority of homes approved for hillside properties since 1990 were smaller.

Only three of 17 houses that received building permits have been larger than 15,000 square feet including basements, Alexander said. The new threshold would still allow most applicants to have their projects reviewed by city staff using the criteria established under the city's hillside regulations.

Attorneys for Manoukian were not present at this week's meeting, nor could they be reached for comment. But during a public hearing last week on the urgency measure, his attorneys protested the addition of restrictions.

Manoukian had submitted a new application with the city that calls for a nearly 25,000-square-foot home to be built on two of his three adjoining lots. Under the new restrictions, it would be required to go through public review.

Alexander acknowledged that as of now, the restrictions will not be "affecting anyone but Mr. Manoukian's project."

Alexander said that he hoped Manoukian would allow the new proposal to go through the Planning Commission and the public review process and that a mediator should be called in to facilitate the process with his neighbors.

Hillside resident Stuart Ketchum, who along with Jack Lemmon and other neighbors fought the construction of Manoukian's estate in their Tower Road neighborhood, praised the council.

Ketchum urged the council to keep residents involved in the political process and educate them in layman's terms about the complexities of construction.

People don't know how many square feet their homes are, he said, which makes it difficult for them to evaluate projects that are being reviewed.

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