Thursday, January 15, 2015

Preserve Sierra Madre's Letter to the Planning Commission on Floor Area Limits

An empty castle looking for its Rapunzel
(Mod: Tuesday night was an exciting and frankly surprising victory, but as I'm sure you know there is still a lot left to be done. Tonight's Planning Commission get-together is quite a big deal because while One Carter is one project, this matter of floor area limits will govern all projects, and for all times. With the mere stroke of its pen the Planning Commission can permanently prevent McMansions from ever coming to Sierra Madre. This is heady stuff and about as important as possible because it is yet another way that Sierra Madre can protect itself from ever becoming Arcadia North. A link to the staff report covering tonight's topic of interest can be found here.) 

Planning Commission
City Council
City of Sierra Madre, CA 91024

Re: Planning Commission Meeting 1-15-15
Conditional Use Permit Threshold
Floor Area Limits

Dear Planning Commission Members:

We understand that you will be discussing the CUP (Conditional Use Permit) threshold and the Floor Area limits at your January 15th meeting.  The Preserve Sierra Madre Steering Committee would like to make our recommendations as to as to what those numbers should be.

Our recommendations can best be summed up by what we don't want to see happen.  We do not want Sierra Madre to be transformed house by house and project by project with Arcadia-like McMansions. That is not what the vast majority of residents want to see happen to our village in the foothills.  We also do not feel that over-sized homes are sustainable at a time of extreme drought which has resulted in a water shortage and rationing of our water supply.  We also recognize that with improving economic conditions and cities like Arcadia simply running out of demolition opportunities, Sierra Madre is rapidly becoming the focus of attention for developers.

Because of the relentless pressure from developers, we feel that this is not a time for half-measures, but rather, a unique opportunity to get this right and preserve what's best about Sierra Madre once and for all.  A beneficial consequence of getting this right is that it would reduce the need for concerned residents from having to keep attending meetings and using up their valuable time and from using up the valuable time of the Planning Commission and City Council as well as we all fight these projects one at a time.

We also need to point out that while we place a high premium on property rights, if it comes down to the property rights of a developer building a spec home vs. the neighbors who could have the value and enjoyment of their homes adversely impacted by an over-sized 2-story home that blocks their views, light and privacy, we will side with the existing neighbors every time.  In other words, the neighbors have property rights too.

In regards to the CUP threshold, which is currently triggered at 4,000 square feet.  We believe that needs to be significantly lowered.  We believe that 3,000 square feet would be a more appropriate threshold to trigger the additional scrutiny from the Planning Commission as well as the neighbors.   We want to reiterate that in light of what has happened in other cities as well as what is starting to happen in Sierra Madre, we must make significant changes to what is currently in place now.

In regards to the maximum floor area limits, we also recommend significant changes.  It is probably safe to say that almost all new homes being built in Sierra Madre are two-story.  If this trend continues, Sierra Madre will literally turn into a community of 2-story box-like homes.  There is a powerful urge, when adding on to a home or building a new home, to take advantage of the views and tower over your neighbors as a result.  But that comes with a price.  You then block the views, light and privacy of your nearby 1-story neighbors.

The changes made to the floor area limits should also include incentives for builders to go "out" rather than "up".  You can do that by allowing owners to build larger houses if they are 1-story than if they are 2-story.  If your neighbor needed to expand their home because of a growing family, it would clearly prevent disputes and problems and adverse impacts if they went "out" rather than "up".  It is also noticeable in the Staff Report for your meeting, that other cities offer the incentive of being able to build a larger home if its 1-story as opposed to 2-story.  Duarte, for example, has Allowable Floor Area Limits  of 35% of lot size for 2-story homes but 40% of lot size for 1-story homes.

Presently with the Allowable Floor Area Limits, you are allowed to build a home that is 35% of the lot size for lots from 6,000 square feet to 11,000 square feet.  For any lot above 11,000 square feet, you get to build a home that is 35% of the lot size for the first 11,000 square feet of lot size and then 15% for any lot size above the 11,000 square feet.  In others words, for those lots larger than 11,000 square feet you will get the 35% base plus 15% for any of the lot square footage above 11,000 square feet.

The table below shows what this looks like with a variety of different size lots:


We would strongly recommend the Allowable Floor Area Limit be reduced from the current  35% of the lot size for lots from 6,000 square feet to 11,000 square feet to 30% of the lot size.  For any lot above 11,000 square feet, you reduce the base amount from 35% of the lot size for the first 11,000 square feet of lot size to 30%  and then reduce the 15% for any lot size above the 11,000 square feet to 10%.  In others words, for those lots larger than 11,000 square feet you will get the 30% base plus 10% for any of the lot square footage above 11,000 square feet.

The table below shows what this looks like with a variety of different size lots:


As we said before, it would be a good idea to offer an incentive of a few hundred square feet if an owner builds a 1-story home or adds on to remain a 1-story home rather than build a 2-story home.  It would also be a good idea to have these formulas based on a "buildable" lot size so that the home to be built is consistent with its surroundings.

We believe the above formula would be a significant improvement on the formula currently in place and take into account people's concerns about McMansionization and preserving their foothill village as well as take into account the realities of our water crises by building homes that will consume less of our precious resources.  We also do not believe these changes are so draconian that someone cannot build a good-sized home with a given lot size.

Finally, these formulas are meant for the R-1 zone. John Hutt has also recommended restrictions on Floor Areas for multi-family zones as well.

Thank you for your consideration.

Steering Committee
Preserve Sierra Madre

(Mod: Tonight's Planning Commission meetings kicks off at 7PM in City Council Chambers.)

Bonus Coverage
Today's issue of the Pasadena Star News has an article up about Tuesday evening's City Council triumph. Titled "Sierra Madre city council denies permits for hillside residential project," it makes the same connection with tonight's Planning Commission meeting that we are here.

Link here.

sierramadretattler.blogspot.com

46 comments:

  1. People need to understand what's at stake tonight. We can either keep coming to all these meetings and keep losing sleep as we see Sierra Madre turn into Arcadia or we can deal with that problem here and now, once and for all, by reducing the floor area limits.. This will determine how big a home developers will be allowed to build in Sierra Madre and which will also decide how much of an incentive we want to give developers to demolish existing homes. Developers make all their profit on the difference between the cost to buiild a home which can be $200 to $300 per square foot and the ultimate re-sale value of the home that is built which ends up being anywhere from $500 to $700 per square foot. The more square footage they can build, the more profit, and the more incentive to tear down 1907 historical homes like 126 Mira Monte. If developers tear down an existing home and have to replace it with a home of somewhat similar size, there is simply not enough profit that will justify tearing down the existing home. If you don't want tear downs in Sierra Madre, we must lower the floor area limits.

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    1. 126 Mira Monte is a good example of what has been overlooked in all this "no development' movement.
      1.Let's not be the party of "NO!" .Tell the Council what we do want in development ,not just being against all development. The negativity is ugly and repelling to many people.
      2.Make the rules 'upgrade- friendly' - encourage improvements so people can build an extra bedroom for a child or a deck. Have you tried this with the Building Dept ? The current rules are unbelievably expensive and obstructive for the simplest of improvements.
      3.If it is too difficult/expensive to make a tasteful addition even to the rear of an old house -people will sell and move.
      4. Worse they will build anyway and that leads to bootleg construction and issues like Hildreth.
      5. There are lots of small, dilapidated, unimproved homes here with great 'bones'. We should encourage owners to bring them up to code and repair them.
      6.These proposals would give the 'no development' movement a positive , pro-Preservation provenance.
      7. Educate citizens about the opportunity to make Sierra Madre a pro-Preservation city. And the first step is to change the rules that treat a homeowner wanting to build a deck as if he is CETT !

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    2. Ugly? I think people have been more than clear about what they want. The best thing I can say about your post is your basic premise is flawed.

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    3. 9:39 not sure where your are coming from. We can proudly say "no" to Arcadia-like McMansions. If that offends anyone, so be it. We're happy to say "yes" to reasonable rules and regulations that prevent what's happening to Arcadia. This is not just an academic exercise. There are real life consequences to what is happening in Arcadia. People are literally being forced to leave the city to get away from it. When your immediate neighbor builds a big 2-story home and now you have your view of the mounains blocked, and sunlight shut out and privacy and instead look at a solid wall of house, you not only just had your property value reduced, you had the enjoyment and the whole reason you bought your house destroyed. Yes, this is serious business. To that, we will say no whether you think that's being "ugly" or not.

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    4. Not saying NO to ugly is ugly.

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    5. I prefer Hildreth's bootleg construction to anything CETT's architect designed.

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    6. 9:39 you are right that we should make it easier for people to renovate existing homes rather than tear them down. Smarter people than me should be able to figure out incentives for people to do just that.

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    7. I wasn't aware that I needed to go and get a career in architectural design so that I can express my opinions about houses on a blog.

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    8. 9:39, you're the only one talking about "no development." That is a tired old slander.

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    9. Thank you. There is a lot of recycled crap in 9:39's little litany of phony grievances. I think we know who it is.

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    10. Read carefully folks.
      There is no problem with the will of the people here to prevent ugly development. The problem is with our Sierra Madre Ordinances and fees for simple renovation/upgrades/remodels. It sounds like you haven't submitted any Plans for such minor work to the Building Dept. recently ? try it. I did. A simple little improvement to the back of a property -only about $ 5000 in labor and materials from a licensed Contractor who is well known to the City. The Building Dept bloated the Fees with "Development fees' -it was $10,000 in fees to the City ! That may be why some people sell up old houses and move.

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    11. California has the highest dev impact fees in America. By a factor of about 10.
      http://sierramadretattler.blogspot.com/2015/01/are-development-impact-fees-form-of.html

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  2. The Planning Commission has basically gotten a pass on seeing what the people want in Sierra Madre. The only Planning Commission member that I ever see at City Council meeetings is Kevin Pasqual. They haven't seen the big crowds because its hard enough for people to attend the City Council meetings. They need to start feeling a bit of heat so that they represent the community's interest and not the developer's interest.

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    1. Kevin, Gina, and Bob care. The others???

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    2. You should not underestimate the people on the Planning Commission. They are keenly aware of how things are going in this matter. They are required to step back and take a dispassionate and measured look at everything. But trust me, they understand what is at stake.

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    3. 7:41 - people show their love in different ways.

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    4. Let's hope the Planning Commission can solve the McMansion problem tonight. Its very easy to do. You just make it so they aren't allowed to do so. By during that, we also make it more attractive to keep an existing home rather than tear it down. Developers make their money on the spread between the cost to build and the ultimate value.

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  3. We made such a statement on Tuesday with our numbers. Please come tonight. Bring the kids, bring your work but please be in the audience!

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  4. That "buildable area" is the worst problem at Carter.
    The lots say they are so many square feet, but plenty of those feet are unbuildable.
    If the settlement agreement runs out in March, and our current laws then apply, does that mean they'd have to use realistic "buildable area" calculations, if the commission and the council make that change?

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  5. I will be at the planning commission meeting tonight and urge the commissioners to lower the cup threshold and reduce the allowable floor area. It is time for them to step up and do thieir job and protect us from oversized insensitive Mcmassion type development.

    I hope to see you there.

    Barry Gold

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  6. The devil is in the details, as they say.

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  7. In many ways this is as meaningful as Tuesday's City Council meeting. It is like comparing gym class to Algebra II. One is fun, the other makes your head throb. But you need to pass both to graduate.

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  8. I will be there! And I'll drag anyone I can find!

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  9. Thank you, Claudia Palma, for your well written article about Tuesday night's City Council meeting.

    Tattler readers, please consider calling the Star News and thanking Ms. Palma for her efforts. 626-544-0849.

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    1. I didn't see that article in the paper. Is it only in the on-line version?

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  10. The Star-News story says:
    "The applicant, CETT Corporation, is hoping to construct a two-story, 3,125 square foot single-family residence on a property located at 610 Baldwin Court..."

    I thought the denied project was closer to 3,900 sq. ft.

    Did I miss something?

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    Replies
    1. I call it the Oprah House. It changes its sizes monthly.

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  11. For those who received the Planning Commission letter directly from Preserve Sierra Madre, do a "reply all" and give some brief comments about supporting it (if you do), and send that email to Leticial Cardoso to foward on to the Planning Commission. That has a big impact.

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  12. We sent the following letter to the Planning Commission today:

    Dear Planning Commissioners;

    I fully support the letter you received from Preserve Sierra Madre regarding many issues that you are working on. We want to keep Sierra Madre from becoming overrun with the gigantic, gargantuan and grandiose houses that we see being built on lots where already large, by Sierra Madre standards, houses are being demolished in Arcadia in the Highland Oaks and Singing Oaks residential areas.

    I served on the Canyon Zone and we were successful in preserving the traditions of the early settlers and builders in that neighborhood with several important measures, namely the floor area ratio for these small lots and the second story setback with the building envelope. I believe you have already added this city wide for the second story but with excessively large lots, very large houses can be built that would not be complimentary to the aesthetics and traditions of the neighborhood.

    There was a time when living in the outdoors and the yard space around the house was of great value and that is reflected in even our largest and most stately homes on large lots. This aesthetic is core to the look of Sierra Madre. It is imperative that you reduce the allowable house size that would be exempt from a
    CUP so that better controls against over building are in place as well as reduce the automatic FAR that allows over building as well.

    Years ago an area was subdivided in North Claremont into very large parcels with the thinking that more open space would remain on each lot but there were no controls in place for this ratio to occur. Those lot today each sport large mansions so that the area has no relationship to the rest of the community.

    Something similar happened to the Jamison Estate, those houses built between Highland and Grandview, where lots larger than the minimum 15,000 square feet were created but the houses were built out so that you do not get the feel that you are in an area of larger lots. The Jamison Estate plan, in the mid 1980's followed the same thinking that occurred in the Nutzel Tract, above Grandview between Camillo and Valle Verde, in the late 1960's where the city required the lots to exceed the minimum 15,000 sq ft. The houses built did nothing to respect the larger lots except to cover more ground with larger houses.

    As we all face decreasing natural resources, most notably the availability of water, it is imperative that we build smaller on all of our lots in Sierra Madre and not waste the resources of existing houses by bulldozing them into the landfill resulting in the use of new building materials. Reuse of existing houses with modernization is important to sustaining the City of Sierra Madre.

    Sincerely,
    Caroline and Roger Brown, Alta Vista Dr.
    44-year residents of Sierra Madre Canyon

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  13. Great letter Caroline. Thanks.

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  14. The effects of Communist RED CHINESE money has been buying up property that was meant for future AMERICAN development not a bunch of communist ill gotten gains money.

    Glendora, California is the latest to feel the effects of the money scheme, Chinese money will buy up hillside peoperty and sell it off to other wealthy communist Chinese to get a free visa and American citizenship too!

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  15. Lets get to the real truth because this is what Im feeling. The truth is we are all just jealous that we can afford to build our dream castles and we dont want the town to get over run by the Chines. Thats the bottom line. I dont want it but its the truth. There is nothing wrong with these beautiful homes. I was commissioner when the Jameson estate was being planned and everyone was upset by the size of the homes and the loss of our heritage etc. But it was built and its a beautiful little section in our town. If you want an unchanged environment your going to have to relocate to the the south or midwest but here in California this next boom is going to be a big one. a lot of foreign money coming over hear.

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    1. Surrender monkey. And a not very knowledgeable one.

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    2. 8:25, are you familiar with the concept called "projection"? You really ought to look it up.

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    3. "Over hear?" That's what earplugs are for.

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    4. Why is it that the people who make excuses for McMansions are almost always only partially literate?

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  16. When Caroline Brown speaks,...People listen.....

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    1. Oh please.....who is she? E.F. Hutton? Good Lord.

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    2. Does anyone listen to you? Your dog maybe?

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  17. Goldstein sure can drone on.

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    1. He and Desai were the first 2 hours of the meeting.

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    2. I guess you could call that a hard earned victory.

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  18. Barry Gold and John Hutt, thank you both for great remarks.

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  19. before the Jameson Estates, as you call them (how is that for calling them the excess that they are) there was a beautiful forested area there. But pavement, concrete, stucco, and wealth are so much more becoming, aren't they?

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  20. I don't know about you, but I would like some local dim sum. And if we could get a couple of chicken farmers up here, imagine the fun we could have with Cha-Cha.

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    1. Josh and his chickens. Well lack-a-day!

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