After 18 meetings on the matter and at least 50 hours of public debate, Torrance City Council members late Tuesday approved new limits on the size of single-family houses in the city.
The council voted 5 to 2, with Councilmen Bill Applegate and Dan Walker opposed, to create a new ordinance limiting house sizes to no more than 60% of a lot's square footage.
About 32,000 lots zoned for single-family development will be affected by the new standards, created in response to a trend toward tearing down older, single-story houses to make way for bulky, two-story replacements.
The new rules will not affect existing houses but will apply when a property owner wishes to demolish a house, add a second story or significantly remodel an existing structure.
Although obviously pleased at finally voting on an issue that they have been debating for more than a year, council members admitted that the matter is not entirely resolved.
Mayor Katy Geissert asked staff members to bring back additional proposals in coming weeks that would create a review system for homeowners wishing to build houses that exceed the 60% limit.
Geissert, who said the new standards will protect homeowners from watching "the American dream going beyond their wildest dreams," also asked planners to write a proposal that would create a maximum house size, possibly 4,500 or 5,000 square feet, regardless of lot size.
Neither developers, who had hoped for a more lenient 65% limit, nor homeowners, who were lobbying for no more than 55%, were entirely pleased with the compromise measure.
"I'm not sure the city isn't looking to create an architectural review board," builder Rick Gaunt said, charging that the new limits and the possible review process will sharply curtail what an architect may design in Torrance.
Homeowners noted that the 60% restriction still will allow significantly larger houses than most neighborhoods have now.
"People still will be able to build a home three times the size of ours, where we are raising our families quite well," homeowner Anita Hall told the council. "We are deciding tonight what Torrance will look like in the future. . . . Will it be the bright, happy, open community we see now?"
Councilman Walker complained that the new standards will discourage remodeling and charged that the city was negligent by not mailing owners of single-family houses a description of the changes being considered.
"A lot of people will wake up . . . at some time in the future and find they cannot make the addition they always assumed they could make, because the house across the street was built that way," Walker said. "When remodeling is restricted, then you have a basic denigration of the community."