The City of Los Angeles is currently in the process of approving new design standards for its Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance.

The ordinance, adopted in 2005, seeks to increase homeownership and housing density through construction of single family residences (SFRs) on small lots zoned for multi-family developments. But a lack of design guidelines has given rise to developments that are incompatible with the aesthetics of L.A. neighborhoods, prompting backlash from residents who resent the unattractive buildings.

City Planning recently collaborated with developers and architects — with input from the public — to create design standards that ensure new small-lot constructions conform to the character of surrounding neighborhoods.

Once approved and implemented, developers will need to run through a checklist of design criteria their construction needs to meet, which include design standards for:

  • building orientation;
  • primary entryways;
  • exterior façades;
  • roofline variations;
  • building modulation;
  • pedestrian pathways;
  • landscaping; and
  • common open space areas.

Additional code amendments and map standards will update provisions for:

  • front and rear yard setbacks;
  • minimum lot widths;
  • common access driveways and walkways;
  • fences and walls;
  • utility easements;
  • on-site trash collection; and
  • guest parking.

The ordinance will also include a best practices guide to creating compliant designs.

A response to growing opposition

These recent updates have been long-awaited by residents who condemn the ordinance as detrimental to the local housing market. Critics cite the loss of city views, green space and architectural character as significant drawbacks to recent small-lot developments, claiming the ordinance prioritizes quantity over quality.

Even more distressing to the community is the replacement of low-income housing with new small-lot properties priced beyond what existing residents can afford — adding to widespread gentrification across the L.A. area.

However, proponents say the immediate loss of existing housing makes room for a long-term increase in SFR developments, which helps curtail L.A.’s exorbitant home prices and house a growing population. With L.A.’s rate of construction still far below the rate needed to accommodate residents, the ordinance offers one solution for the city’s severe housing crisis by rapidly increasing inventory to meet demand.

The proposed design standards indicate local government, beholden to both existing residents and new residents in need of housing, is taking earnest steps to boost residential development and preserve the aesthetic integrity of L.A. neighborhoods — a step in the right direction for housing policy.

Though residents are justified in their aversion to constructions that clash with their neighborhood, preventing all development merely fuels the housing crisis. The simple truth is residential development is necessary to ensure housing availability for an ever-growing population.

Thus, the design standards highlight the potential for responsible development in communities like L.A. The updates prove housing policy can simultaneously address a lack of inventory and the community’s desire to retain a neighborhood’s unique character. For local governments that want to promote development and garner support from the community, focus will need to be on collaborative ordinances that balance the needs of existing and new homeowners. The only question now is whether L.A. residents will embrace the changes and the new developments they bring.