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, know as “the Oaks ICO”. Then, based on the Oaks ICO 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 and the smaller the lot, the smaller the home. Creating these regulations spanned several years and involved multiple neighborhood outreach events, and a lengthy public hearing process. The regulations are relatively simple, and the maximum home size allowed 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 400 sq ftunder the Oaks D limitations.
The issue of out of scale residential development, however, 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 new city-wide ordinance that regulates 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. Some of these regulations are carry-overs from the original Hillside Ordinance and some are new. This new 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 the size and height of buildings through a complicated formula in all hillside areas. However, the Oaks are exempt from this part of the ordinance, because of the D Limitations.
In addition to the Baseline Hillside Ordinance, other citywide regulations also limit the construction of retaining walls to two retaining walls of 8 feet in height or less, or one retaining wall of a maximum height of 12 feet per project.
For it’s 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 older Oaks D Limitations.
Because the city made the Baseline 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 is a lot simpler under the Oaks D Limitations, and that the applicable formula in the D limitations reflects closely the existing character of the neighborhood.