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When It Comes to Home Expansions, These Cities Are to the Banner Sworn

August 28, 2003|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Most homeowners adding a second floor to their house try to keep the remodeling project as low-key as possible in front of the neighbors.

Not on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, though.

Residents there take to the rooftop to shout out their plans for a new master bedroom suite or a new wing for the kids.

To make certain everybody notices, they nail a flimsy-looking framework of 2-by-4s to their shingled gables. Then they stretch gaily colored, used-car-lot-like flags between the boards. And finally they let the contraption flap in the wind for months.

And, surprise. Neighbors living in million-dollar homes around them appreciate it.

The framework and flags are part of a process called "silhouetting" that is designed to alert the neighbors when new construction is being proposed.

Five of the cities that control development on the scenic coastal peninsula 20 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles require the use of banners and boards to outline the shape of proposed residential projects.

The idea is to give a preview of what the new construction will look like -- and a warning if neighborhood views of the ocean and the hillsides are likely to be wrecked after new walls and roofs are actually built.

On the basis of the silhouettes, complaints can be registered in time for architects to try to work out compromises over height, building bulk and the positioning of structures.

These days as many as four dozen wobbly-looking silhouettes can be spotted in the peninsula's Rancho Palos Verdes, Palos Verdes Estates, Rolling Hills, Rolling Hills Estates and Torrance areas.

The garish installations can be puzzling to passersby unfamiliar with the local development rules.

"We're trying to attract space aliens," joked Allan Rigg, Palos Verdes Estates' planning chief.

Michael Forte, a Palos Verdes Estates aerospace engineer who plans to remodel his one-story house by adding an upstairs master bedroom and office, spent $1,500 six weeks ago to have professional surveyors place poles and flags above his home. Depending on neighbors' reaction and a public hearing next month, he hopes work will get underway next year.

"My wife originally thought it would bother her. But it hasn't. And it doesn't bother me at all," he said. "I tell friends who are coming over in advance what they're going to see on our roof. One friend at work said she wishes they did this where she lives, because an ugly building that blocks the view has been built next to her."

Down the hill, Donna Pesqueria's neighbors have lived for about three months beneath a large array of poles and flapping banners spreading from their front driveway onto their roof. But the gaudy scene doesn't bother Pesqueria.

"It looks like a circus, but I think it's a good idea. We'll be losing some of our view. But because of the flags they moved one of the walls about 3 feet for us, so we'll be able to see more of the coastline," she said.

A larger chunk of ocean vista disappeared years ago when a 2 1/2-story home was built across the street from Pesqueria. At the time, Palos Verdes Estates didn't require silhouetting as part of the permit process.

It wasn't until last fall that poles and pennants started popping up in the city. Since then, about 50 projects have been outlined by the framework.

"We'd seen it done in Torrance's hillside district, where homes stairstep over the hillside," said planner Rigg. "Even though the silhouettes are not the most attractive things, with the flags and lumber, it's better to have neighbors more fully understand the concept and size of a project. It has taken some of the anxiety out of development."

It has started to unify neighborhoods too. Residents of the Palos Verdes Estates street where Bob Neuman lives gathered beneath the silhouette of a proposed new home a few weeks ago to consider its impact. "It absolutely draws neighbors together. Putting up with flapping flags for a short interval is minimal compared to what may be permanently built," he said.

Rancho Palos Verdes has required silhouettes for second-story additions since 1989. More recently the concept was expanded to include all new construction. Before that, "we kind of had to guess where the house might be," said Joel Rojas, city director of planning, building and code enforcement.

"The flags are up for three or four months," he said. "That can spark controversy. During the winter, when they blow down and start deteriorating, we get calls about the unsightly silhouettes and how long they'll be up."

Adjacent Rolling Hills does not allow second-story additions. But it has required silhouetting for new one-story construction since 1988, according to planning director Yolanta Schwartz.

Rolling Hills Estates has mandated the practice for new homes and remodelings since the mid-1980s, according to planning chief David Wahba.

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