The Torrance City Council has delayed for two weeks a decision on a new set of building standards to limit the size of single-family houses.
After more than an hour of testimony from more than 20 residents and builders, the council voted Tuesday to postpone action while city staff drafts a second, slightly less restrictive set of building standards that council members also can consider.
About 70 residents and builders gathered at the City Council chambers to discuss the building limits, which will come before the council again Sept. 5.
The search for standards was prompted by complaints from dozens of residents that oversized single-family houses built throughout the city are increasing density and traffic and encroaching on neighbors' privacy, views and light.
The standards before the council would limit the total floor area of a two-story house to 60% of the lot area unless side-yard setbacks are increased. It would also set a height limit of 18 feet for single-story houses, establish new side and rear setback requirements and limit the percentage of the lot that the ground floor of a house can occupy.
While many residents expressed support for the building standards, several builders said the limits are too restrictive and will hurt their businesses.
Anita Hall, who lives on West 236th Street, supported the proposed standards, calling them a fair compromise that would answer the concerns of both residents and builders.
Sam Burrescia, a builder in Torrance since 1971, disagreed, saying the standards would force developers and builders to take their business elsewhere.
He said he thinks the city is reacting hastily to an emotionally charged group of residents. He compared the council to a surgeon fighting cancer.
"Well, I hate to inform you, but there is no cancer in Torrance," he said.
Garages an Issue
Some builders complained about a provision that includes garages as part of the floor area.
After listening to the testimony, Councilman Bill Applegate recommended that city staff draft a second set of building standards with a floor-area limit of 65% of the lot area.
He said he thinks increasing the floor area limit by 5% would satisfy builders and residents and "would make most everybody happy."
Applegate suggested that the second set of standards could be considered by the council along with the previously proposed building limits.
Applegate, Mayor Katy Geissert and Councilmen Tim Mock and George Nakano voted for Applegate's recommendation, while Councilwoman Dee Hardison and Councilmen Dan Walker and Mark Wirth were against the proposal.
Hardison and Wirth said later that they opposed Applegate's suggestions because they would like more time to study the first set of standards.
Walker said he voted against the proposal because he believes the problem of oversized houses is not as severe as some residents claim. He said he thinks the restrictions before the council would force builders to construct "mediocre" houses.
Any new standards would not affect existing homes but would apply to new houses, additions and houses that are remodeled.
If new standards are adopted, the council will also decide whether to exempt all construction plans for single-family houses that are currently being reviewed by the Planning Department.
Garages are included as part of the floor area, but basements are excluded.
The standards before the council would allow two-story houses with a total floor area of up to 70% if the side-yard setbacks are increased from the minimum--10% of the lot width, or three feet--to a minimum of 20% of the lot width, or 15% for both the first and second stories. Applegate's proposal would eliminate this exemption.
To be exempt from the 60% limit, houses also would have to conform to a new "bulk control" measure, which requires that no portion of the house protrude outside an invisible "tent" that rises vertically 21 feet at the minimum side-yard setback and extends at a 45-degree angle toward the interior of the site.
Under current regulations, the height of all single-family houses is limited to 27 feet. The new standards would set limits of 18 feet for one-story houses and 27 feet for two-story houses.
The standards also would require that the ground floor of a new two-story house cover no more than 40% of the lot. The current limit is 50%. Under the proposed standards, the lot coverage limit of 50% for one-story houses and second-story additions would remain the same.
The standards would also prohibit single-family detached guest houses, outdoor staircases and detached, two-story accessory buildings.