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Venice Update

News of Venice, CA and Marina del Rey CA

Architect John Reed Gives Reasons VNC Should Not Support Mass, Scale, and Character Draft Document

John Reed, local architect and former member of the Land Use and Planning Committee, has sent a letter to the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) asking the board not to support the Mass, Scale, and Character Draft document when it is submitted for approval by the VNC Ad-Hoc committee. This is his letter to the board.

by John Reed, AIA

VNC Board Members the draft report recommendations should not be supported by the VNC for the following reasons:

Mass Scale and Character have no definitions in the Venice Land Use Plan nor the Venice Coastal Zone Specific Plan. Instead a building envelope with various height restrictions, step-backs. setbacks, yard requirements and roof line configurations were established for each and every sub-area of the Venice Coastal Zone Area. Based on recent development patterns I believe there is consensus that the building envelope currently adopted should be modified. In some cases reduced and in other cases increased. What has never been defined specifically, is how to apply a Character definition to each sub-area or neighborhood without spot zoning each and every lot in Venice.

Over the last 24-36 months stakeholders, property owners, architects, builders, etc., have been frustrated and confused about the lack of continuity in the review process with subjective determinations and subjective appeals which have created uncertainty for everyone. There needs to be minimum by-right building envelope standards based on each specific sub-areas of Venice to end the uncertainty for everyone.

After reading the draft report, I was surprised that there is no analysis or rational differentiating how Scale and Mass should be defined and/or applied for different residential neighborhoods, zones, sub areas, or different development patterns in Venice which have occurred over the last 115 years. The development patterns of a street where all the lots are 25 feet wide is significantly different than a street where all the lots are 45 or 50 feet wide. The Venice Land Use Plan also has two land use designations for Single Family Development which are Low Density and Low Medium I Density. The draft report has one definition for Scale and Mass for all Single Family Zones in Venice, which is tied primarily to an arbitrary .45 FAR without explaining or addressing what the cumulative impacts and/or unintended consequences might be with this proposed change.

To recommend a .45 FAR based solely on a pending change to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance which defines and modifies FAR limitations and more specifically defines Residential Floor Area is shortsighted and without merit. This recommendation fails to address the uniqueness of Venice’s many different sub-areas and establishes a FAR that for numerous properties will make constructing a 3 bedroom single family home for 4 people impossible. Venice is unlike any other city in Los Angeles for a multitude of reasons including; much smaller average lot sizes and lot width, additional parking requirements, reduced height limit, waterways, etc.
Venice was annexed to LA City in 1926. Almost every subdivision Tract was recorded in Venice prior to 1926, which created small lots with different street patterns, lot sizes, lot frontages, roadway widths, etc. which do not meet LA City standards.

The current ordinance and proposed amendment to the Baseline Mansionization Ordinance applies only to LA City Single family zone properties which are for significantly larger lots in general. The only corresponding Single Family Zones in Venice are R1 and RW-1. One of the
reasons both Hillside and Coastal properties have been excluded in the past from these ordinances, is that both Hillside and Coastal properties include significantly smaller lot sizes, have topography or grade changes which limits building footprint size and have other development standards such as the hillside ordinance or Venice Coastal Zone specific Plan which further restrict development. Additionally both hillside properties and Venice Coastal zone properties have a more restrictive height and parking requirement, a third parking space, which is not required in the greater Los Angeles R1 and RW-1 zoned properties and is not even mentioned in the committees draft recommendations. The committee made no “Findings” why a .45 FAR should be applied to all Single Family Zoned properties in Venice, presented no analysis or impact study on how many properties would be effected by this change, and presented no comprehensive data on development patterns over the last 115 years with respect to square footage per home based on a specific time period. The committee clearly ignored all other factors relating to urban planning and simply recommended .45 FAR based on LA City’s pending ordnance which specifically excludes all Coastal properties. After 4 years you would think more thought would have gone into the draft report.

In every Coastal community there is a sliding scale for lot coverage such that smaller lots are not penalized and restricted with extremely small houses. The FAR should not be limited to a square footage where a family of 4 cannot build a three bedroom home or add onto an existing home. The construction of an average 2016 single family home for a family of 4 could range between 2,000 SF minimum to 3,500 SF depending on lot sizes between 2,500-7,500 SF. To limit a three bedroom home to 1,100 or 1,300 SF makes no sense. A 2,500 SF R-1 lot in Venice is currently permitted approximately 1,475 lot coverage based on required setbacks. A two story home with a two car garage would end up with approximately 2,475 SF. This is approximately a 1.0 FAR. The draft recommendations reduce this buildable area to less than half.

It is unclear if the intent of this draft report and recommendation would apply to only single family zones in Venice which would be R1 and RW-1 zones. Under no circumstances should any FAR limitation be made to any multi-family zoned property without an environmental impact report study analyzing the significant risk of effectively changing the underlining zoning due to square footage restrictions that would make constructing a duplex or two dwelling units unfeasible. Mutil-family zoned properties in Venice include R2, RD1.5, RD2 and RD3 which are designated in the Venice Land Use Plan as Multi-Family Residential – Low Medium I Density, Multi-family Residential – Low Medium II Density, Multi-Family Residential – Medium Density. The allowable FAR for multifamily zones in Los Angeles is 3.0. Because of the 25’ to 35’ height restrictions in the VCZSP, the average new development in the these multi-family zones is averaging less around 1.0 FAR over the last 5 years which, is one third of the development that would otherwise be permitted in the rest of Los Angeles.

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