So you think because you own a piece of land, you have the right to build whatever you'd like on it? Think again.
Many areas around California (especially Los Angeles) have a long, tedious entitlement process depending on the location, project type, project size, etc. Even for a single, family residential home like the one we are building, we are looking at months of approval process. In addition to the typical plan review for permits, the town has a design review board. So, what has been the process been like for us?
Back in February, we submitted sketches for a concept review to the Design Review Board. The meeting went quite well. The overall consensus was that street had a mix of styles and a contemporary design would be acceptable taking into consideration the design guidelines set by the Planning Department. Off we went to design our dream home.
The requirements for the design review application for new construction is quite extensive. I even had to bring on a landscape designer to put together a hardscape and landscape plan. For those who don't know, you typical hire the landscape designer much later in the process, basically when the house design is finalized. All the houses on the block are single story homes and massing is one of the major contextual elements we have to consider. So, we started to communicate with a structural engineer to minimize the height of our two-story house. We finally got our package together and submitted in June.
Here is a list of requirements we had to prepare for the application:
- Project narrative
- Photographs of all the houses on the street
- Site Plan
- Floor and roof plans
- Exterior elevations
- Building sections
- Exterior details
- Door and window schedules
- Landscape and hardscape plans
- Manufacturers' brochures of all exterior materials
- Materials board
- Colored elevations
- List of all neighbors within a 300' radius from property and mailing labels
- Tree removal plan
My husband and I were so naive to think that after all that work, we could get this approved in a month or so. To our surprise, more than a dozen neighbors (keep in mind there are only 16 houses on our street) came to protest against our design. At the time, I was so overwhelmed by the comments, I even cried. Here are some of the comments (abridged):
- Doesn't fit in the neighborhood.
- I want a small, Craftsman style house here.
- Too large and too tall.
- Contemporary is inappropriate.
- Build a multi-family house instead.
- No coherency.
- Completely out of place.
We heard the word "Craftsman style" so many times, I lost count. After some research, only 3 of the 16 houses are even considered Craftsman. In general, many of the neighbors had fear that this new contemporary house would change the neighborhood for the worse. Some are resentful that we are allowed to build 2 stories or use aluminum windows, but they were turned down years ago when they wanted to do an addition. Guidelines and regulations constantly change, so this is something we have no control over.
After our June meeting, we set up a community gathering (which was highly recommended by the DRB) to discuss some of the redesign ideas with our neighbors . I'm glad we did that because I felt like we are starting to form personal relationships with some neighbors (the ones who want to help). While others just came out to speak their wants, turned around and left. We realize that we cannot make everyone happy, all we can do is come to a compromise. This is the world of real estate development!
Following our not-so-productive community gathering, I was practically at the Planning Department every other day. The planners are amazing to work with. They have been feeding me information, confidence, and guidance. After being knocked down at the DRB and community gathering, I was able to pick myself up and am ready to face the next challenges. This is a part of developing in California and what I'm learning now will only prepare me for future endeavors.
Tonight, we are presenting our redesign in sketch form to the Design Review Board only to see if we are heading towards the right direction. Wish us luck!