L.A.'s 'Persian Palaces' Spark Zoning Backlash

<p>The construction of large, some say garish, homes built by immigrant families in several Southern California communities is prompting officials to tighten zoning restrictions.</p>
March 29, 2007, 10am PDT | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"Los Angeles has long been an architectural free-for-all. Until recently, just about anything could be knocked down and replaced with just about anything else."

The proliferation of large, ornate, homes built by people like Hamid Omrani, a wealthy Iranian Jew, is causing some communities to rethink the rules.

"The house that Hamid Omrani built in Elm Drive has the bulk of an iceberg and the appearance of a wedding cake. Sumptuous balconies jut out of the cream-coloured structure. Corinthian columns prop up the bulging roof. "Everybody likes columns," explains Mr Omrani. Everybody, that is, apart from local officials, who now frown on such architectural confections, and the Los Angeles planning department, which this week opened public hearings on a plan that would bar houses like it from being built in much of the city."

"Increasing prosperity means the average American home is expanding (see chart). In Los Angeles, many of the big-house-builders are immigrants, who tend to have larger, more cohesive families. Yet even those who oppose restrictions believe that further limits on house size are inevitable. The fear that gardens will be shaded and privacy intruded on is simply too strong."

"Mr Omrani is furious. "If I wanted to have mullahs telling me what to do, I wouldn't have left Iran," he growls. Yet, like others, he is trying to adapt to the growing list of controls by reining in designs and advising clients to remodel rather than rebuild. The result of the drift to preservation, he predicts, will be a blander city, less appealing to immigrants."

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Published on Wednesday, March 28, 2007 in The Economist
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