10/10/2007

"Mansionization": Which Home is Largest-of-All?

Belmont Heights bungalow

Under discussion for much of this year, the Long Beach City Council's agenda last night finally brought it to the city level. Citizens from neighborhoods such as The Ranchos, Belmont Shore and Belmont Heights have been most vocal about the impact of built-out remodels or rebuilds on the character and "feel" of their neighborhoods. It's not too difficult to find throughout Long Beach (or adjacent cities) many examples of houses which are built out to the maximum in lot coverage with as little setback as possible, in the trend to have the largest home possible in a given amount of space. Where a neighbor saw a tree in his neighbor's yard, he now might be able to reach out and touch the neighbor's new second story wall. As real estate appreciates, so does the desirability of location, location, location, and many owners felt there was an advantage to tearing down the old and rebuilding today's desirable floor plan. So does the owner have all the rights here, or do other area residents who chose to invest in a neighborhood partially because of it's architecture, age, density level (or lack of), and general "comfort" level with the street.

So the City Council last night voted 8-0 on a motion concerning Belmont Shore and Belmont Heights which proceeds which a current interim ordinance limiting construction to two stories (there have been many 3 story remodeled houses in the Shore), and further study reducing the number of variances allowed, the appropriateness of decreased turning radius for cars with homes on alleys, architectural projections, front yard setback, standards for remodels and new construction, using community involvement on design guidelines.

For some owners, just as when some areas voted to become historic districts in the 1980's and 1990's, these guidelines may be viewed as too limiting and an infringement on their property rights and change what they view as "functionally obsolete." It's a valid point--for hundreds of years people have built their homes in a way that fit the social structure of the time, sometimes long after that social structure was gone and "custom" took over. How do people upgrade a floor plan they believe is "functionally obsolete" but then not infringe on their neighbor's privacy? The other question is, do people need as much space as they think they do? I think a big question centers on privacy and desire for personal space especially in metropolitan areas which have seen their populations grow drastically. They're squashed in on the freeway to get home, and now their big plasma TV does not fit in that little 1928 or 1952 living room.

But will this really prevent sales? I don't think so--I think people in these neighborhoods will ultimately find a balance between living in a temperate climate vs. their lifestyle and available resources. (Photo is California bungalow in Alamitos Beach area, the kind of house that some people love and look for, other people think is way too small.)

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