Glendale considers building smaller homes

Homes on skinny, smaller lots in Los Angeles are doing so well they sell out in neighborhoods like Silver Lake and Atwater Village over a weekend. Now, Glendale officials think what worked across the border can spark the right kind of development in some of the city's densest neighborhoods.

“If they're successful in L.A., they can be successful in Glendale,” said Principal Planner Laura Stotler.

For years, Glendale has been down-zoning overdeveloped areas in South Glendale. But if a developer bought a lot on a street like Riverdale Drive, where old apartment buildings mix with single-family homes, the best option to maximize profit would be to build another apartment complex.

This week, the City Council took a step toward giving them another possibility: a small-lot subdivision.

Officials plan to start drafting guidelines for how Glendale can allow developers to take an average lot in South Glendale of 5,000 to 7,500 square feet and build multiple small homes.

The reasoning is twofold. Dividing a lot into smaller pieces can lead to fewer dense developments, officials said. It can also increase community investment in a neighborhood when more residents own rather than rent.

“I don't think we can underestimate the effect on some of these neighborhoods if we give way to homeownership,” said Councilwoman Laura Friedman.

A lack of investment has led to substandard conditions and an increased need for code enforcement, according to a city report.

The small-lot developments tend to look like townhouses, and although they seem to be connected from the outside, they don't share walls. They also require less frontage than a typical single-family home and in Los Angeles, sometimes traditional open space, such as yards, is replaced with roof decks or patios.

Each unit owns the land beneath them and unlike condominiums, there would be no homeowner association fee, officials said.

There seems to be high developer interest in small-lot subdivisions, but right now, Los Angeles corners the market, officials said.

“When [developers] want to build that kind of unit, they go to L.A.,” Stotler said.

One sticking point though for council members was parking requirements, which are less stringent for single-family homes than new apartment developments.

Parking in South Glendale has long been a problem due to the high number of rentals. Because small single-family homes built on divided lots don't typically require guest parking like most apartments do in Glendale, that could be a problem, council members said.

After seeing pictures of a Los Angeles development that features 700-square-feet bungalows with shared driveways and just a few feet of space between a Toyota Prius and a muscle car, Councilman Dave Weaver said he wanted officials to make sure parking issues would be addressed as they draft small-lot subdivision options.

“I think we ought to allow a couple more feet [for parking] if we do this,” Weaver said.

The next step will be to create small-lot guidelines, which will likely mirror those of Los Angeles, and a design review process for City Council to consider. There's no timeline for when the small-lot subdivision options will come back for review.

“It's just another tool for us as we build these neighborhoods,” said City Manager Scott Ochoa.

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