"The new restrictions will support long-term property values," said neighborhood activist Shelley Wagers, who pushed for the measure. "Mansionization has been a matter of profiteering, and has made quick money for a few people at the expense of their neighbors."
Tear-downs have long stirred controversy, especially in beach communities — once-funky towns that have seen property values skyrocket over the years amid an influx of wealthy residents, chic boutiques and cafes. Many who grew up in the area have moved out, unable to afford a house with an ocean breeze. Many who did own homes couldn't resist cashing in.
Death often precedes a tear-down. For example, when an elderly homeowner passes away and children choose to sell rather than live in the property. The competition for what developers call lots — because the land is more valuable than the house — is fierce.
Prominent Manhattan Beach builder Matt Morris recalled a lot he purchased in the spring.
"I overpaid, in my mind, by $250,000," he said.
The day after he went into escrow, Morris said, another developer offered to pay $150,000 more for the property. He declined the offer. There are simply too few lots available. And Morris believes he stands to make more upon selling the newly built house.
Manhattan Beach, which long ago morphed from a quaint beach town to ritzy burb, has recently been debating tightening its anti-mansionization ordinance, which aims to reduce the visual bulk of new homes and preserve older ones.
Leonard, the developer who demolished the Manhattan Beach cottage in October, said he is "ambivalent" about the new restrictions under consideration.
"As long as it satisfies the residents," said Leonard, who has constructed many Cape Cod-style houses throughout the city. "If the city and residents want small, I build small. If they want bigger, I build bigger."
Other local developers, however, have criticized the proposed changes. After the push-back, the City Council voted in November to send the proposals to the Planning Commission for further study.
Richard MacKenzie worries about what will come next on the empty dirt lots across from his 1955 house. He said he believes construction of a planned deep basement on the land will shift the ground and damage his house, as well as those of neighbors.
The project's developer declined to comment. But plans filed with the city describe a 9,000-square-foot, three-story mansion with an elevator, wine cellar, bar and game room. The master bedroom will have an expansive outdoordeck with a spa tub.
MacKenzie said such giant luxury homes, and the Kardashian lifestyle they represent, threaten the community's beach vibe along with the landscape. To him, Manhattan Beach is starting to feel more like Beverly Hills.
"Why move to the beach?" MacKenzie asked. "You used to walk on the beach and say hi to people. Now people have their own worlds they live in."