About 15 years ago, savvy developers started snapping up many of the charming, mostly Spanish-style bungalows on the fringes of Beverly Hills. The houses were often replaced with what became commonly (and derisively) known as Persian Palaces. They aren't difficult to spottheir imposing two-story frames flanked with columns, plastered with oversized windows, and festooned with embellishments worthy of a wedding cake. They hulk over the original houses of the neighborhood like Great Danes sitting next to Chihuahuas.
With property prices soaring, it was inevitable that new buyers would want to expand on the modest footprints of the original houses, and the generous lot sizes enabled them to do just that. But not only was the mishmash style of the new columned mansions unpopular with many residents, the existing codes also enabled developers to build houses that by traditional standards were significantly over-scaled for the lots. So in 2004, Beverly Hills residents marched to city hall demanding that the planning department take actionand it did. In what the LA Times called "The Big-Box Battle of Beverly Hills," the city enacted code changes that made it virtually impossible for developers to continue with their building frenzy of ornate stucco boxes.
Flash forward about eight years, after the bubble burst and property values began their upward trajectory, and now there's a new group of unhappy home owners. This time it's the residents of adjacent, uber-trendy West Hollywood who are up in armsbut not over ornate palaces. These new big boxes are usually slick, hyper-modern single-family homes. And it's happening not just in West Hollywood, but in much of the surrounding area too.
At its core, it's the same storycash-rich developers buying up every available property and replacing them with the largest boxes they can possibly build under current codes. Most residents aren't complaining too loudly about the style of these houses, at least not with the same undertones of prejudice there were in Beverly Hills a few years ago. These larger houses often don't even stray from popular standards of contemporary design. It's the scale and mass that has everyone so upset. Some are unhappy because they feel the new houses are ruining the character of their neighborhoods, others because they're losing their privacy. But they all have one thing in commonthey are very angry.
In 2005, Brian Mazurkiewicz and his partner Michael Levine bought one of the smaller, Spanish-style houses in an area known as West Hollywood West. They did a major renovation, maintaining the single-story frame, and feel that the end result was sensitive to the character of the area. This eclectic neighborhood of mostly single-family houses has since become a popular hunting ground for the big-box developers. Mazurkiewicz, who has lived in West Hollywood for 28 years and has sold real estate for the past 24, is very involved in the battle to revise current building codes in West Hollywood. "These developments, left unrestricted, will change the density, mass, and scale of our community," said Mazurkiewicz. "Any new 2-story home must conform to the area's character and scale and not detract from it. It is important that developers working within our community be held to a higher standard."
So, just like in Beverly Hills, local residents have stormed city hall and demanded change. And it looks like they might get it. Last month, the West Hollywood City Council enacted a 45-day moratorium on all two-story, single-family house construction while it considers proposals for new building guidelines; this week, the moratorium was extended until the end of the year. These efforts likely won't stop people from building larger houses, but residents may get a bit more breathing room ... and maybe they'll still be able to walk around naked in their backyards.
· WeHo West Calls for a Ban on All New Single-Family Houses [Curbed LA]
· Anti-Mansionization [Curbed LA]
· Curbed Features [Curbed LA]