Business & Economy

Los Angeles housing developments panned for 'lacking character'

Neighbors of Morton Village, an 18-unit townhouse development, have called it
Neighbors of Morton Village, an 18-unit townhouse development, have called it "ugly" and lacking character.
Josie Huang/KPCC
Neighbors of Morton Village, an 18-unit townhouse development, have called it
Work crews are putting finishing touches on Morton Village. The townhome development includes three bungalows.
Josie Huang/KPCC
Neighbors of Morton Village, an 18-unit townhouse development, have called it
Morton Village has a modern design that neighbors says doesn't fit in with the other homes.

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In Echo Park, a new townhouse development that towers over tiny bungalows makes neighbors like Phoebe Anderson grimace.

"It’s large and it’s gray and it’s just ugly," said Anderson, a painter and personal trainer. "Echo Park is more flavorful and neighborhood-based, and I think this takes away from that feeling."

New multi-unit, market-rate buildings like Morton Village are helping to fill Los Angeles' severe housing shortage. But some residents living by these developments say they’re ruining the neighborhood with unattractive designs and big footprints — all for sky-high prices. Enough complaints have reached City Hall that councilmembers are cracking down.

"There’s no reason we can’t adopt guidelines that will encourage a better design," said Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, whose district includes Echo Park.

O’Farrell is pushing a plan to give the city more control over what new subdivisions look like — how big they are, how close to the sidewalks and neighbors. This week, he introduced a motion that criticized high-end, luxury townhomes that are "out-of-scale and lacking character" compared to other homes in his district.

“We have some incredible architects and artists who demand more for their community," said O'Farrell, whose motion was co-sponsored by Councilmember Mike Bonin.

"Stylish and contemporary" is how Morton Village is described in brochures. Neither the developer Fifteen Group nor the builder Van Daele Homes returned calls for this story. On its website, Van Daele makes the point that older homes aren't better:

"This gated community of 2 and 3 bedroom contemporary style residences are brand new, giving homeowners all the benefits that come with today’s energy-efficient, environmentally friendly technologies that just aren’t found in decades old cottages."

O’Farrell’s plan calls for tightening the city’s ordinance on small lot subdivisions so that they have “quality urban design” and “sufficient project open space.”

He also wants to discourage instances where developers buy up an affordable housing complex and replace it with luxury townhomes.

The planning department is supposed to report to the council’s planning panel on possible updates to the ordinance by September.

(Photo by Robin Redd)

Any changes that may take place will come too late for Robin Redd. The textile designer is moving out of her apartment in a house next door to the Morton Village townhomes.

She said she’s tired of the mess and noise from months of construction. From her living room window, she used to look over a cluster of low-slung family homes.

“There was a lot of space between the residences,” Redd said.

Replacing that view is a gray stucco wall of one of the townhomes, roughly 10 feet from her window. Redd said she recognized the city needs more housing.

“We do have to get used to living closer together, but it doesn’t have to be done in such a drastic and cold way,” Redd said.

Not everyone has a problem with these subdivisions. According to a consultant staffing the Morton Village sales office, all but two of the 18 units have been sold. The asking price is $823,000 a piece.