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Monday, Apr 15, 2024

Small Homes, Big Market

If you had a choice between owning a condominium farther away from where you work, or owning a smaller home closer to your job, and the prices of each were about the same, which would you choose? People who haven’t been able to afford a conventional single-family home in nice neighborhoods now have that choice to make, thanks to a set of guidelines for small lot homes that allow for greater density on small parcels in existing neighborhoods. In the Valley, several small lot home projects that are under construction, recently finished or about to begin construction serve as examples of the popularity of the city of Los Angeles’ small lot ordinance. And the 12-year-old ordinance is being updated. The ordinance, by way of scaling down requirements for conventional single family homes, lets developers fit more homes on small, infill properties. In turn, the smaller homes cost less than conventional-sized ones, as the developer can push the density of the land higher. That means buyers can be in new three- to four-bedroom homes that are finishing up construction in Panorama City for prices starting in the mid-$400,000s. Compare that to a potential $671,500 – the median price for conventional single family homes that sold in the Valley in March. Small lot homes have 1,541 to 1,890 square feet and are being built by Richmond American Homes in Denver, Colo. as part of the Walnut Village project. “It allows for less expensive home ownership in established communities,” said Caroline Greco, marketing manager for Richmond. “It provides opportunities for people to buy who didn’t think they could buy (there).” Filling space Ashton is a small home project that’s about to start construction on a 4.3-acre lot at 20600 W. Roscoe Blvd. in Winnetka. Once finished, the site will be a hybrid of small lot homes and conventional single family homes intended to match the surrounding mix of single-family homes on one side and a busy street on the other. The project was approved years ago with a higher density under a different developer, said Bryan Sevy, an associate principal with KTGY Architecture + Planning in Irvine. His firm was hired by the current developer, Meritage Homes Corp. of Scottsdale, Ariz., to redesign the project to be more in character with the neighborhood. His firm reduced the 34 units-per-acre density of the original design, which had146 condominiums spread between a four-story building and individual buildings, to 77 homes with a density of 18 units per acre, Sevy said. “There wasn’t a lot of love in the neighborhood for the four-story design,” he explained. Plus, Sevy added, Meritage felt the market had changed from when the project was first approved to one in which home and property ownership was more attractive. With the new design, the big, central parking garage that would have been the first thing residents saw when they entered the complex has been replaced with a central street with trees and landscaping encircled by three-story townhome-style small homes. Those sit on the busier street while the seven, two-story conventional homes are on the street next to similar-looking ones. In early 2015, the home prices were going to range from the low $400,000s to mid-$600,000s, according to a Winnetka Neighborhood Council meeting. “The new design fits a little better in that neighborhood,” Sevy said. “We cut the density in half, more or less. Now there’s a much better connectivity of pedestrian networks and better connectivity of open space.” It’s not the only small lot home project in the pipeline. In Valley Village, WCH Communities LP in Encino will build a 16-lot small home complex; in Northridge, Harridge Development Group in Los Angeles has proposed 61 small lot homes and 79 apartments with commercial space on 3.3 acres along Reseda Boulevard at the former location of Picture Car Warehouse; and in 2015, Canoga Park builder California Home Builders finished a 73-home small lot homes complex in Van Nuys while it continues constructing 90 small lot homes in Sylmar. KTGY is designing another small lot project – this one in Sylmar with 24 homes on Vaughn and Victor streets that will soon start construction. The homes there will be just under 1,700 square feet, Sevy said. But if developer Williams Homes had opted for conventional homes, it would have meant designing them to have a 15-foot side yard, translating to a lot fewer homes, or building apartments to get the allowed density, Sevy explained. KTGY has a track record with small lot projects, including June Street Collection in Hollywood and Gaspar in Los Angeles. Small aesthetics With little land left to develop in the San Fernando Valley – except for tight, infill parcels in existing neighborhoods – small lot homes give developers and buyers another option besides apartments or condominiums. Small lot homes are beholden to the specific zoning codes for their sites that control height, width, front and side yard setback minimums and aesthetic guidelines. With more space upward than outward, the structures often have townhome layouts with three levels and most living done on the middle floor. The chief guidelines are that they fit into the look of the surrounding neighborhood, Sevy said, with urban design standards on how far they sit back from the road, what kind of walkway gets the owner from the street to the front door and what front doors and entryways look like. Open space is a common element to the small lot home concept, according to Sevy, and typically appear as rooftop patios. The patios don’t normally take up the full roof, and can be positioned for privacy so neighbors can’t see each other and don’t share walls. Most small lot homes range between 1,400 square feet and 2,000 square feet and require a 15-feet minimum width, Sevy said. The proposed ordinance update would enlarge that minimum width to 18 feet wide, he added. The small lot guidelines are not zoning standards but are to be applied in addition to the zoning already in place for the site. The multiple standard and regulations can make it a tricky process, according to Sevy. In January, L.A. City Council’s planning and land use management committee recommended the Council approve the ordinance changes and they are on their way back to the committee after going through the city attorney’s review. The Council would have to approve them after they pass that review. Some of the updates could add more restrictions, Sevy said. As an architect, however, he would like to see adjustments that allowed for more density and less parking, particularly in urban areas. “There’s an affordability crisis, and one way to soften that is higher density,” Sevy said.

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