Letter to the Editor: New Rules for Luxury Variances

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My best friend is President of her Homeowners Association in Northern Orange County. I never miss the opportunity to tease her about HOAs and their reputations for telling you what color to paint your house and when to trim your trees.

To many of us, these rules feel like an infringement of our property rights. However, I now have a new perspective on what an association can provide, particularly in a beach community.

In the case of my friend, the HOA maintains the slopes in her area. In Newport Beach, at one time a regulatory HOA could have protected views and prevented people from building houses which did not fit architecturally into a neighborhood.

In older neighborhoods, people rarely have a regulatory HOA. But people moving into newer neighborhoods join mandatory associations that charge substantial dues. Many of these people however, welcome an HOA because it gives them some assurance that the area in which they live will be well-maintained and their property values will be protected.

In beach communities, where property values usually are determined by additional factors, HOAs might even restrict the height of structures beyond the city standards and thus maintain the harmony of a neighborhood. For example, Irvine Terrace has an HOA that has attempted to preserve views by establishing a height limit of 14 feet. One need only drive through the neighborhood to appreciate the general standard of architecture which is the result of belonging to an HOA.

In contrast, Kings Road in Cliff Haven has suffered because of the absence of a mandatory HOA. It is struggling right now with trying to maintain the harmony of the neighborhood architecturally and emotionally. Views are being threatened and the size of the houses vary to the extent that a few houses are twice the size of the norm. One new house being considered is 10,800 square feet, not including the garage, while the approximate average size of homes in the area is between 3,000 and 5,000 square feet. These large houses that have been built or are in the planning stages are also threatening to damage the site’s natural topography-the bluffs. In so doing, they threaten to affect the public views from Pacific Coast Highway, a designated coastal view road.

One might think that the city would have become more directly involved in protecting views and the bluffs. Private views are not in their purview but public views are. And the city does have height standards. But what has been affecting the symmetry of King’s Road and other Newport Beach neighborhoods the most is the city’s granting of building variances to excess. Many of the variances they have been granting in recent years are “luxury” rather than “hardship” variances. And building standards due to variances are being challenged to the extent that HOAs no longer have the power they once had.

It is not surprising that Cliff Haven and/or Kings Road do not have mandatory HOAs because of their age. This is true also in the Heights Area adjacent to Kings Road. During the era that these neighborhoods were first established, neighbors relied on the civility of the community. It would have been rare to find someone who would block the coastal view of an adjacent neighbor, and the city would have granted variances very sparingly. In our modern world most people do not often know their neighbors and community spirit is lacking. Individuals are more concerned about what they think are their personal property rights regardless of what that means to their neighbors. As a result, large houses are being built now that block neighbors’ views and their light as well. And no one seems to be stopping them.

Lynn Lorenz
Newport Beach

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