Demand for upscale housing is driving a land rush in ritzy neighborhoods across the San Fernando Valley, but a push by developers to build several homes on large lots in high-end neighborhoods has the city of Los Angeles cracking down.

Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski is pushing for a zoning change that would prevent developers from squeezing what she sees as too many homes on large lots in Encino, a community that increasingly is seeing home sales in the $1 million-plus price range.

"We've had (developers) come in and take one of these lots, turn it on its side and try to get eight tiny houses on it," said Miscikowski, whose 11th District includes parts of Encino, Tarzana and Van Nuys. "It completely destroys the integrity of the neighborhood and orients it in a different manner."

Residents complain that the practice makes their upscale neighborhoods look tacky more like a common housing tract than an affluent enclave. They argue that the projects are overtaxing already-congested streets.

"People move to the Valley to have some space and some privacy," said Helen Arthur, an Encino resident who helped mount a petition drive to change the zoning laws in her neighborhood. "I didn't move here to live on a Wilshire Boulevard-type street."

But developers say that Miscikowski's efforts are aimed at appeasing wealthy constituents at the expense of good planning policy in the land-poor San Fernando Valley.

"The neighbors may be happy, but in the bigger scheme of things we have a population that needs housing," said Ray Pearl, a spokesman for the local chapter of the Building Industry Association of Southern California. Pearl said developers are continually being chided by government leaders to build in-fill projects rather than add to urban sprawl, but in this case, developers who are attempting to comply are being penalized with new restrictions.

Miscikowski said she's simply responding to concerns by her constituents. "This is not a broad brush. This is a fine tuning done at the behest of neighbors," she said.

While the Los Angeles Planning Department was unable to provide statistics on the number of new housing starts or renovation projects, it's easy to see the activity underway south of Ventura Boulevard.

"Values are going up, and people in the real estate business are looking for opportunities," said Frank Fielding, a senior planner for the city who oversees the San Fernando Valley. "The (developers and sometimes property owners themselves) are taking out a home on one of these large lots, and putting six or seven homes in its place. People are waking up to the fact that this is happening.


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