Homeowner Delmore T. Ball could scarcely believe his eyes two months ago when carpenters began hammering together a wall a few steps from his back-yard patio.
The wall was part of a new house and two-story garage being built on a neighbor's back lawn. As the wall climbed higher and higher, Ball got madder and madder.
On Tuesday, the Van Nuys resident got even.
Acting on a complaint lodged by Ball, the Los Angeles City Council applied the brakes to new construction of secondary houses and garages on large lots in residential neighborhoods throughout the city.
Council members voted 10-0 to tentatively require public hearings and conditional-use permits for such projects. A final council vote is expected today.
The action changes an obscure law that, until now, has allowed construction of new back-yard buildings without neighbors having any voice, said Councilwoman Joy Picus, who represents the western Van Nuys area.
"Closing this zoning code loophole strikes a blow against out-of-scale residential development," said Picus, who pressed for the change at Ball's urging.
The city's move comes too late to affect the wall that now casts a deep shadow across the Bianca Avenue residence where Ball has lived for 31 years.
But, to the relief of neighbors, it apparently thwarts similar back-yard projects planned by a developer trying to buy other homes on nearby Encino Avenue.
"It's too bad this one slipped through," Ball said late Tuesday of the construction behind his house. "But at least the rest of the neighborhood is protected."
Encino Avenue resident Dorothy Little said the city's action may stem the sudden surge of "for sale" signs that have popped up in front of other houses on the block.
"This was chasing everybody else out," Little said. "People saw this for what it was--three apartments coming into our neighborhood."
But developer Dan Fitzgerald denied that. He said the new two-story house at the rear of 6936 Encino Ave. is to be lived in by his sister and father. The unusual two-story, four-car garage is to be used by his Tarzana-based construction business for storage, he said. The existing older house on the lot will be rented, he said.
"It has nothing to do with an apartment complex," Fitzgerald said. "We're bettering the area. The people who complained are older people who have nothing better to do than just cause a stink."
Fitzgerald said he has bought 10 other large-lot residences in Granada Hills, Northridge and Van Nuys, and built secondary houses in the back yards of each. Both the original dwellings and the new ones at each site are rented, he said.
Fitzgerald said he had hoped to build more rental homes on the 190-foot-deep back yards behind the 40-year-old houses on Encino Avenue. But the city's action changes that, he said.
"I've got offers in for every house on the street," he said. "But I'll stop doing it. I won't go through the city b.s. any more than I have to. . . . My time's too valuable."
Fitzgerald said city officials are being shortsighted in tightening construction rules "when there's a housing shortage" in Los Angeles. Anyway, he said, "a big lawn in the back is a waste of money."
Not so, said Ball. He said he faces re-landscaping of his carefully tended back yard, where he and his wife, Betty, spend much of their time.
"Where am I going to have to find trees that will screen that wall?" he shrugged, looking at Fitzgerald's new 40-foot-long, two-story garage.