Tear-downs are making a Comeback in Southern California

Tear-downs are again on the rise in Southern California’s affluent communities as a rebounding housing market triggers a residential reconstruction boom. Developers and wealthy buyers are buying up older homes, leveling them and turning them into modern mansions. But this new wave of demolition has received criticism from neighbors across these Los Angeles communities.

Tear-downs have long stirred controversy, especially in beach communities — once-funky towns that have seen property values skyrocket over the years amid an influx of wealthy residents, chic boutiques and cafes. Many who grew up in the area have moved out, unable to afford a house with an ocean breeze. Many who did own homes couldn’t resist cashing in.
In the city of Los Angeles last year, builders received approval to raze 1,227 houses and duplexes from January through mid-December, according to Department of Building and Safety records. That’s 29% higher than in all of 2012, though still well off the pace of more than 3,000 in 2006, during the housing bubble.

Developer Igal Azran recently built a five-bedroom house near the Beverly Center in Los Angeles. The 5,000-square-foot mansion replaced a modest, one-story Spanish-style home. With glass walls and vaulted ceilings, the modern two-story towers over the adjacent 1920s homes with red-tile roofs. Public records show Azran bought the property — then a 2,180-square-foot duplex — for $856,500 in 2011. The house he built sold in October for $3.5 million.

Construction of new, high-end homes raises property values for neighborhoods, Azran said. Those building their homes shouldn’t be confined to the sizes and styles favored by their neighbors, he said.

Many longtime residents resent the scrapping of quaint, older homes and are pushing Los Angeles to tighten the so-called anti-mansionization ordinance passed in 2008. Critics say it has failed to stop the construction of outsized homes that rob views, block sunlight and alter the character of established neighborhoods.

In October, the Los Angeles City Council imposed additional size limits on new houses in the Beverly Grove neighborhood. But the changes don’t mandate a particular style.

Manhattan Beach, which long ago morphed from a quaint beach town to ritzy burb, has recently been debating tightening its anti-mansionization ordinance, which aims to reduce the visual bulk of new homes and preserve older ones.

Developers, however, have criticized the proposed changes. After the push-back, the City Council voted in November to send the proposals to the Planning Commission for further study. Richard MacKenzie worries about what will come next on the empty dirt lots across from his 1955 house. He said he believes construction of a planned deep basement on the land will shift the ground and damage his house, as well as those of neighbors.

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