Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Friday, July 16, 2010

What is a site plan review in L.A.?

Los Angeles 1950. From
A couple of days ago, I had a hard time trying to explain to a homeowner why he had to pay for a site plan review and after the process, his request was denied.
Any person applying for a new construction, remodel or legalization, has to pass through the site plan review at Regional Planning in Los Angeles. But the case that interests me is the legalization.
If a person receives a letter from Code Inforcement, there is no way he/she can skip the situation. A letter like this, means there is something illegal -or apparently illegal- in the property. Needless to say if the garage or even a storage is rented as a living space. 
Sometimes, if the inspector hasn´t seen the property´s records, he can suppose about the status of the constructions. And once a construction is suspected to be illegal, while the owner doesn´t prove the contrary, he has to submit plans for a site plan review. He will pay the City for a complete analysis of his property. Set backs, lot coverages, parkings, maximum heights, zoning, quantity of units, etc. Even if there is only a very small Code violation.
Then, if a structure is non conforming (it means, built under a different Code from the current one), but it is untouched and nothing has been added to it, you can keep it. But at the very moment you make a remodel on it, everything has to be brought back to the current Code.
The homeowner I mentioned before, was discussing that he bought the house ¨as is¨,  he was not guilty. It doesn´t matter, the responsibility of illegal situations inside the property, lies on the current homeowner.
Then, he said, I used to have a bathroom behind the garage, I have the record here. But, once you demolish a non conforming construction, you cant´rebuild it. He insisted, ¨I still have the pipes¨. No way to rebuild it in unpermitted set backs again.
I don´t think it´s so difficult to understand, but it must be very frustrating to pay for a site plan review (approx. 800$) and then have a ¨denied¨ as an answer after reviewing all the records, even from the Assessor´s office........
At last, in his anguish, he mentioned many neighbors had more than 2 units in district R2. He was right. But he had to consider, when the Code changed, from R3 to R2, whatever was legally built cannot be demolished, unless there is a new construction, and again, the new Code R2 rules. This is a way to ¨clean¨ the urban tissue, to renew the urban morphology. More cars offstreet means more cars inside the property, more open space, and probably 2 stories houses instead of 1 story. In the future, the benefit will be for all, as the neighborhood is being improved. The sacrifice of a few, for the benefit of all the neighbors, including the sacrificed ones. The problem is that homeowners don´t envision it, only architects, urbanists and planners.

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