Is Mansionization Threatening to Overwhelm Pasadena’s Neighborhoods?

Published : Wednesday, June 7, 2017 | 5:33 AM

A private meeting Thursday will segue into planning for a series of public outreach meetings to address what local preservationist group Pasadena Heritage says is the now commonplace bane of mansionization, the massive expansions of homes which threaten existing neighborhood character.

The matter of mansionization – where overly large residences dwarf neighboring existing, older homes – earlier prompted the City’s Planning Department to roll out a second round of community meetings this summer to present relevant draft zoning recommendations to the public.

“When a house is demolished and something much larger and much different goes in its place, it forever changes the neighborhood, or at least the street. People are distressed that’s happening more and more, and we are losing the character of the City in incremental bits,” said Pasadena Heritage Executive Director Sue Mossman.

In recent years many Southland communities have been trying to find a balance between private property development and community concerns about view protection, privacy, impacts of noise and lighting, and overall aesthetics in their neighborhoods.

According to the City Planning Department officials, “mansionization” technically refers to a situation where a proposed house, either new or rehabilitated, or an addition, is out of scale and/or out of character with surrounding houses, but at the same time complies with the development regulations that currently apply to the project.

“The concerns we hear are new single family homes that are out of scale, too big, too tall, too massive for the neighborhoods in which they are being built and that current City code does not have enough control to assure a level of compatibility for new houses that would be acceptable in this city,” explained Mossman.

Mansionization in Pasadena neighborhoods has been occurring for many years and seems to be resurfacing as a hot topic in the post-recession economy, according to Mossman.

“It’s always kind of been there. Looking back in the last ten of fifteen years we would hear occasional complaints or concerns and then the recession hit and nobody was doing anything,” explained Mossman. “I think it’s the recovered economy. All development in Pasadena seems like it’s been escalating exponentially.”

At the direction of City Council, and in response to concerns for the potential of “Mansionization” in Pasadena, City staff is undertaking a comprehensive effort to revise the Zoning Code development standards governing single family residences, according to the City’s website.

“You can design and build almost anything as long as you follow those basic rules,” Mossman said about the current City Zoning rules.

“We’ve seen projects in single family neighborhoods where a permit is pulled to add to an existing house and as the project goes along, more and more of the historic house disappears and a bigger and bigger new addition is revealed until you would never know it’s the same house,” Mossman added.

The City has embarked on a three-phase effort to address mansionization in Pasadena’s single family neighborhoods.

The goal is to offer a regulatory solution to ensure that the character of Pasadena’s single-family residential neighborhoods is preserved, according to a statement provided by the City’s Planning Department.

“The trend by some property owners who seek or who are successful in maximizing the housing project footprint on their property (both in Pasadena and elsewhere) raises concerns by City officials and other homeowners who feel that new development is not compatible in terms of size, scale, massing and architectural character with the surrounding neighborhood,” according to City Planning Department officials.

“In particular, residents in numerous community meetings have raised concerns that this trend can lead to overdevelopment, oversized houses and additions, incompatible building mass, scale and architectural style; privacy, and view protection,” according to City Planning Department Officials.

Phase 1 was completed in February 2017 and focused on the Lower Hastings Ranch neighborhood, with new regulations that reinforced the neighborhood’s distinct character.

Phase 2 focuses on single-family residential properties that are not in Lower Hastings Ranch, and are also not in Hillside or Landmark Overlay Districts.

Phase 3 focuses on Hillside Overlay District zones and is intended to tighten up existing regulations. Phase 3 is scheduled for a public hearing with the City Council on June 12

“Mansionization is becoming a problem all through Pasadena. Hopefully we can come up with some kind of compromise,” said Lower Hastings Ranch Association Co-President Jim Brennan, whose neighborhood was the main focus for Phase 1 of the City’s zoning initiative.

“In the last couple of years we’ve had three or four homes built in the area that just do not fit the area at all. They’re just eye sores, they’re totally out of characteristics of the ranch style environment,” said Brennan.

An ordinance for Lower Hastings Ranch was adopted by City Council last October after a series of community meetings for Phase 1 which developed new regulations that include architectural design standards, view protection, regulations on two-story construction, and new Neighborhood Development Permit.

The new ordinance became effective in February and restricts property owners looking to construct a two story structure which include building materials, roofing, window size, overall architectural design and more, according to Brennan.

“A two story structure [built] right next to you and you’ve lost your entire privacy of your backyard,” said Brennan about privacy concerns.

“Most of [the problem houses] have been taken down and rebuilt. I can’t think of one that’s just been added on to,” said Brennan.

For other residents, mansionization jeopardizes more than just privacy.

“It’s simply not appropriate to build second stories and ruin people’s views,” said resident Wilson Wong at a community meeting last September.

“A few of the structures went up and you totally lost your mountain views because all you can see is the back of a house,” explained Brennan.

West Pasadena resident Mic Hansen says mansionization takes away from the residential experience that Pasadena is known for.

“When you bring something in which is completely outside that range both visually, stylistically, scale and materials, it becomes this jarring exception. When you have enough of those, the neighborhood experience as it was and as people move in ceases to exist,” said Hansen.

Phase 2 is currently in process, according to the City, and will cover all non-historic, non-hillside single-family zoned property throughout Pasadena.

Eight community meetings were conducted in 2015 and a second round of community meetings anticipated for Summer 2017 to present draft recommendations to the public.

“Now I think we’re heading into the bigger, more wide-open arena of regulating single family construction, but in careful and thoughtful ways that still allow people to build new houses that might be their dream house, but depending on where they choose to do it — how can it become part of the fabric in Pasadena in positive ways?” said Mossman.

Pasadena Heritage works at the forefront of helping to educate and address the topic of mansionization to residents.

“Pasadena Heritage is planning to launch a community outreach effort on this topic and a number of other critical issues that seem to be on everyone’s mind,” said Mossman.

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