Culver City OKs Limits on Commercial Growth Near Residential Areas

Times Staff Writer

New height and setback provisions approved this week by the City Council in Culver City will control the size of office and retail developments built near residential neighborhoods.

The changes affect commercial properties that lie next to, or across the street from, residential neighborhoods. Larger buildings on those parcels will have to be built farther from property lines in order to reduce shadows and increase the privacy of residential neighbors.

The amendment to the general plan could increase setbacks for 12-story buildings, the tallest allowed in the commercial zone, from 35 feet to nearly 200 feet.

"It will effectively result in lower buildings on the smaller lots adjoining residential areas," said city planner Jay Cunningham. "And on the larger lots, the buildings will have to be set back significantly more than in the current code."

Developers may design terraced buildings if they do not want to move a building farther from their property line. The city has devised a formula that will allow larger buildings, provided that they are built up gradually from lower levels. The formula gives developers some flexibility in designing taller buildings and still provides protections that homeowners requested, city planners said.

The height limit in commercial zones will remain at 12 stories, or 167 feet. But the City Council's action Monday also included provisions that will lower the height limit on specific parcels to as little as 43 feet.

Council members or city planners can call for a public hearing when they believe that a particular parcel should have a lower height limit. The council will be able to limit heights to either 43 feet, the so-called "low-rise" zone, or 98 feet, known as "mid-rise."

Planning Commission member Tom Betts said the city planning staff will examine commercial properties throughout the city to see which require the more restrictive height limits on new construction.

Consideration of the new height limits and setbacks began almost three years ago after a developer proposed construction of a 12-story office building at Jefferson Boulevard and Slauson Avenue. Neighbors complained that they would lose their privacy and be overrun by traffic from the building.

The City Council eventually rejected the project but continued with a study on how to buffer homes from offices and retail developments.

City planners said the new setback requirements would allow at most an eight-story building on the Slauson-Jefferson property that began the controversy. Developers have already begun construction of a mini-shopping mall on the property.

The City Council voted 3 to 2 to approve the general plan amendment. Councilmen Richard Brundo and Ron Perkins voted against the proposal because they said the low-rise height limit should be set at 48 feet, as proposed by the city staff. But council members Paul Jacobs, Richard Alexander and Paul Netzel agreed that the limit should be lowered to 43 feet.

Netzel said the lower height limit will prevent construction of four-story buildings on parcels designated by the council for low-rise development.

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