A Primer on Building Regulations in the Oaks
By Wayne Schlock
If you’ve been reading this newsletter over the past few years you’ve learned of the passage of two separate measures to regulate oversize development in the Oaks. These regulations were a response to the heated real estate market at the time which had encouraged out-of-scale development. First, there was a temporary Interim Control Ordinance, known as “The Oaks ICO.” Then, based on that Ordinance and with some refinement, came the permanent “Oaks D Limitations.”
Both regulations were based on the simple principle that a home’s size should be proportional to the size of its lot. In other words, large lots can accommodate relatively large homes while smaller lots should have smaller homes. The creation of these regulations spanned several years and involved multiple neighborhood outreach events and a lengthy public hearing process.
The regulations are relatively straightforward — the maximum home size allowed for any lot is determined by applying a simple formula to the square footage of the lot. Additionally, all existing homes, regardless of lot size, are allowed to add on an additional 400 square feet under the Oaks D Limitations.
The issue of out-of-scale residential development was not limited to the Oaks neighborhood. As other neighborhoods wrestled with the same issues, community groups called on the city for the same kind of sensible regulations that were created for the Oaks. This time, however, instead of tailoring regulations to the individual needs of each neighborhood, the city updated and replaced an existing ordinance that governed hillside development and created a city-wide ordinance to regulate residential buildings in the hills of Los Angeles. This ordinance is called the “Baseline Hillside Ordinance.” The term “Baseline” is used because this ordinance is intended to be the common denominator to be used citywide, upon which each neighborhood can add its own regulations to address specific local issues.
While the Oak D Limitations are relatively simple and deal primarily with the size and height of buildings, the Baseline Hillside Ordinance tackles many other issues of concern. This ordinance also applies to the Oaks. Some of these regulations are carry-overs from the original Hillside Ordinance and some are new. This Baseline Hillside Ordinance regulates:
- setbacks (or the location of a home on the lot)
- impermeable cover (or covering one’s yard with pavement)
- grading (the amount of dirt that can be relocated, imported or exported to a hillside construction site)
- fire protection
- street access or street width
The Baseline Hillside Ordinance also regulates, by means of a complicated formula, the size and height of buildings in all hillside areas. However, the Oaks neighborhood is exempt from this part of the ordinance, because of our D Limitations.
In addition to the Baseline Hillside Ordinance, other citywide regulations limit the construction of retaining walls to two retaining walls of 10 feet in height or less, or one retaining wall of a maximum height of 12 feet per project.
For its part, the Oaks Homeowners Association board lobbied the Planning Department to keep the Baseline Hillside Ordinance as clear and simple as possible. In the end we were only partially successful. Basically, all stipulations of the Baseline Hillside Ordinance are in effect in the Oaks, except those regarding building size, height and lot coverage. Those remain regulated by the Oaks D Limitations.
Because the city made the Baseline Hillside Ordinance so complex, and only very generally stipulated how the Ordinance interacts with the Oaks D Limitations, it is no trivial task to apply the rules to any given property in The Oaks. The big plus of this situation, however, is that determining the basic permissible square footage for a lot is considerably simpler under the Oaks D Limitations. And the formulae in the D Limitations reflect closely the existing character of the neighborhood.
The two documents referred to in this article, in their most recent versions, are available as pdf downloads here: Baseline Hillside Ordinance (effective 3/13/17) and Oaks D Limitations (effective 2/8/2017).