SEAL BEACH : New Codes Restrict Building Additions

When a developer last year submitted plans to add several new rooms to his Seal Beach apartment building, something just didn't look right.

The rooms were labeled as "studies."

But to city officials and concerned residents, the rooms more closely resembled bedrooms complete with their own closets.

The difference was a crucial one. If the new rooms were classified as bedrooms, the developer would have the costly--and perhaps impossible--task of providing additional parking spaces.

In the end, city planners decided to require the parking anyway. And on Monday, the council approved changes in the city's zoning codes designed to close such loopholes and further restrict apartment-building additions.

The new regulations cover apartments built before the passage of development standards in 1980 and apply mostly to the Old Town district between the beach and Pacific Coast Highway.

The area near City Hall consists mostly of older, single-family homes and apartment buildings on small lots. Overdevelopment and parking have long been simmering issues in the neighborhood.

The new rules limit additions to 144 square feet per apartment unit and require one additional parking space for each unit expanded. The parking requirement covers any room addition regardless of what the developer calls it.

"The concern is that when there is an increase in the number of bedrooms, it changes the number of people and the number of cars," said Lee Whittenberg, director of development services.

By setting a maximum expansion limit, officials hope to prevent property owners from masking major additions by listing the work as minor improvements.

"You can call a room anything you want, but that doesn't solve the problem," Planning Commissioner Phillip Fife said. The old rules "punished the guy who was honest and said he was building a bedroom."

The new regulations also limit the number of bathrooms allowed in a two-bedroom apartment to 2 1/2 as a way of restricting the number of people living in those homes.

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