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Santa Monica cracks down on big, bulky houses

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The city adopts temporary rules limiting the size of new homes

Aerial view of Santa Monica
Temporary rules will limit the height of new homes to 28 feet.
TierneyMJ | Shutterstock

Are homes in Santa Monica getting too big? Local officials think so, and in a Tuesday meeting that lasted into the early hours of Wednesday morning, the City Council approved a new bill that temporarily limits the size of new single-family residences.

The average floor area of newly built homes in the city is around 5,000 square feet—more than twice the size of the typical American house, according to a city report. In Santa Monica, where cozy bungalows once dominated the landscape, staff estimates that existing homes are up to three times smaller than what’s being constructed today.

Mayor Ted Winterer said the rules were “in direct response to resident concerns” and would help preserve “the diversity and uniqueness of our residential neighborhoods.”

The new rules will go into effect in February and will last until at least May, though they could be extended up to five years. They will limit the height of new homes in single-family neighborhoods to 28 feet and ensure those residences don’t take up more than half the lot they sit on.

Additional restrictions would limit square footage on the second floor of new homes and keep down the size of balconies and upper level decks.

While the interim policy is in effect, the city plans to craft new design guidelines regulating development of new single-family homes going forward.

Some residents complained that they had been blindsided by the new rules and that their plans for building new properties would be dashed by the policy.

“We’re building a home that’s similar, if not smaller than our neighbor’s,” resident Horace Hertz told the council. He said that the new rules would require a change in the design of his new home, resulting in a “significant loss in value.”

Other residents said that larger homes are threatening the character of lower-slung residential neighborhoods, many of which are filled with historic homes overshadowed—and in some cases replaced—by the new developments.

Resident Kit Dreyfuss said that most of the homes on her block had been replaced with new construction or “remodeled to the point of being unrecognizable.”

City staff reported that property owners apply for roughly 70 demolition permits for single-family homes per year (around 40 end up being approved). Residences that replace these homes are typically around twice the size, according to staff.

“A small handful of developers and realtors are making themselves very wealthy,” Zina Josephs told the council on behalf of Friends of Sunset Park. “Neighborhoods are losing their character.”