Getting in the Zone: Building Your Vertical Dream Home (And Tackling Zoning Issues) in Manhattan Beach

Getting in the Zone: Building Your Vertical Dream Home (And Tackling Zoning Issues) in Manhattan Beach 1800 998 White Sands Design/Build
Building Your Dream Home with California Zoning

Like all densely-populated southern California areas, the South Bay has strict zoning laws. And the laws in Manhattan Beach are different from those in neighboring Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Palos Verdes Estates, so it’s important to use a local design/build team that understands California zoning and restrictions in the particular city where you want to build. In some cities, regulations may even differ from neighborhood to neighborhood.

In Manhattan or Hermosa Beach, the first thing to understand is that you’ll likely end up purchasing a parcel that already has a house on it. There just aren’t many empty lots in the area. So if you want a custom-build—a home that exactly suits your tastes and the needs of your family—you will have to renovate or tear down the existing home.

When building in Manhattan Beach, there are no color or architectural style restrictions, but there are restrictions on building height and parcel size. There are also landscaping restrictions. One regulation that comes up a lot is fencing. Your fence should be no taller than six feet, unless you get approval in writing from every owner whose property the fence will touch; then you can build it to eight feet.

Manhattan Beach Neighborhoods

Manhattan Beach is made up of four distinct sections, and some of those sections are further divided into neighborhoods. Each section has its own unique amenities and its own building regulations.

The Strand

If you live along the The Strand, the beach is your front yard. For two miles, Strand houses nestle beside a paved path that runs from the Pacific Palisades all the way to Torrance. The path nearly always has walkers, joggers or bikers, and homeowners have a front-row view to volleyball tournaments, surfers and brilliant sunsets melting into the foamy Pacific. You can hear the waves from your patio, your neighbors may be celebrities, and you’re within walking distance of the shops and cafes downtown.

Most lots in the Strand are 30 x 100 feet, but some are 30 x 150. You can purchase double lots, but you haven’t been able to purchase triple lots in a decade. (This is because in 2008, a homeowner built a 16,000 square foot mansion, and a lot of neighbors weren’t happy about it.) Even so, the largest of these parcels offer space for amenities like an ocean-front spa or a basketball court.

The Sand Section

The Sand Section is vibrant and highly walkable and includes downtown, with its boutiques and restaurants. In fact, there are dozens of “walk streets” in this section, which only allow foot traffic and lead to the beach. This means your children can play in the street, and you never have to worry about them, or your escape-artist pet, being hit by a car.

The Sand Section offers gorgeous ocean views and a strong sense of community. Casual neighbor-gatherings happen almost daily, since the homes are close together and outdoor spaces are communal. You can be on your patio and easily chat with your neighbor on their patio. But while the neighborhoods are close-knit, The Sand Section doesn’t get the same kind of tourist traffic as The Strand. You’ll probably know the people you see from your patio, and hanging with these folks will become a valued part of your daily routine.

In the Sand Section, parcels are 30 x 90 feet or 2,700 square feet total. An oversized lot may be 33 x 100 feet. Some lots, in the El Porto (public surfing beach) part of the Sand Section are even smaller—about 30 x 45. So having a design/build construction team that knows how to maximize space is incredibly important. The good news is that, in most of the Sand section, homes can be up to 30 feet tall and you can build three-story homes. (In other parts of the city, only 26 feet and two stories are allowed).

If you are building on a Walk Street, your builder and designer will need to be aware of encroachment area regulations. This is land that connects to your property and to the street, and for practical purposes, seems like your property, but legally it belongs to the city. This means you have to keep your landscaping and any fencing at 3.5 feet or under. Known as the “view ordinance,” this code is meant to protect your neighbor’s view. The upside is that you can be confident that your own view is safe from your neighbor’s whims!

The Hill Section

The “hills” in the Hill Section are actually sand dunes, although they’ve been paved over and built on, they now seem like normal hills. However, the varying grades makes it possible to have sweeping ocean views, even though you’re further from the beach.

The Hill Section offers large parcels and wide streets. If you want a swimming pool, a tennis court, an extra garage, or a large yard, this may be the section for you. The parcels tend to be 40-50 feet by 140-150 feet, so they’re over a third larger than the average Sand Section lot. However, total structural height is limited to 26 feet, and you’re only allowed to built two above-ground stories.

The Tree Section

Parcels in the Tree Section are usually 40 feet wide and anywhere from 100-135 feet long. You can build two stories, up to 26 feet in this part of town, which is known for its large, fresh-smelling eucalyptus. Many of these trees are protected by a city ordinance, which means your tree-lined street is likely to always be a tree-lined street. This part of the city doesn’t offer ocean views, but it does offer more bang for your buck, parcel-wise. It’s family-friendly, with a small-town, classic neighborhood feel.

Sprawl Is Out, Vertical Is In

At White Sands Coastal, we like to build what our designer Hawlie Ohe calls “upside-down houses.” This means rather than putting all the personal spaces, such as bedrooms, on the top floor, we put the key living spaces up there. Often, we’ll have a living room, dining room and kitchen on a third story, so that you’ll have the best ocean views in the places you spend the most time.

We often raise formal front doors above street level, so that guests enter the home on the second story. This is also where we’ll put most of the bedrooms and full bathrooms. The lower level—around here, it’s often called the beach level—is where homeowners will most often enter, through the garage.

“On a walk street, we often have a beach level living or rec room that opens up via a big door system [usually floor-to-ceiling] to the street. This way, you have an integrated indoor-outdoor entertaining space. When the door is open, you can have spontaneous neighbor encounters,” says Hawlie.

Building vertically often means including an elevator, to avoid time and energy spent running up and down stairs. White Sands puts four-stop elevators in almost every home we build. “You’ll understand how amazing this is the first time you have to get groceries to a third-floor kitchen,” Hawlie says.

Outdoor Spaces

Want a roof deck, or better yet, a roof deck with a hot tub? You’ll have to build in Hermosa or Redondo Beach, then. We build in these areas also. Roof decks aren’t allowed in Manhattan Beach or Palos Verdes, but you can still have large outdoor spaces with spa-like amenities and amazing views.

“We compensate by building really nice exterior decks on the top [third story] level, with fireplaces and cozy furniture. We make them feel like an extension of the indoor living space with big doors and floor-to-ceiling windows with mechanical shades,” says Hawlie.

In every home, White Sands incorporates framing to support the additional weight of a rooftop or top-level balcony hot tub. Even if the client doesn’t want a hot tub now, they may want one later, and it’s much easier to add it during the building process than to try and bolster the framing later.

Privacy in Dense Vertical Living

“If you want a lot of privacy, we can landscape for it with vines that can close off an area with fast-growing trees,” says Hawlie. Sometimes White Sands also adds water features to a garden or patio, such as a fountain, to muffle street noise and make a space more meditative.

One of the reasons it’s so important to use a design/build team, rather than two separate firms, is that many parts of the building process are best started as early as possible. This includes landscaping, where “planting early in the build gives trees time to grow” according to Brett.

Window placement and treatments are an oft-underestimated comfort and privacy game-changer and another reason you want an integrated team to build your new home.

“We go off of a plan in elevation and window schedules, but we don’t order windows until we have a frame and walk the openings,” says Brett. “We need to make sure your neighbor’s house doesn’t have a massive window looking into your master bathroom. We’ll order windows and settings when we are already the field, because we’re building to maximize view and get as much privacy as possible.”

Mechanized window shades that raise and lower at the touch of a button are critical in a place like Manhattan Beach, which gets an average of 286 sunny days a year. But the motors for these types of window treatments need to be installed during the framing phase, which means you definitely want your builders to have good communication with your interior designer—which is easy when they’re all part of the same firm.

Enclosed Garages

Manhattan Beach requires each new build to have garage space for three cars; Hermosa requires garage space for two. But what if you collect cars, have several teenage drivers, or want to use some of your garage space for storage?

One solution is to include a car lift in your garage, which allows you to store your convertible mid-air during the week and park your commuter car beneath it. Then, when the weekend comes, you can switch up your vehicles and their storage positions.

Other Beach Towns To Consider

We adore Manhattan Beach, which is a great community for young families, as well as health and intentional living enthusiasts. But we’re also fond of (and code experts for) Hermosa, Redondo and Palos Verdes. So which beach town is the right town for you?

Hermosa Beach is a great place for young professionals, with a lively bar and restaurant scene. If you want a more suburban feel and the convenience of big box stores, Redondo Beach is your best bet. Redondo also has a harbor and marina, if boating is your thing. If you want a sprawling estate on a cliff over the Pacific, with a slightly older, more-established neighbors and lots of rugged land for hiking and biking, Palos Verdes Estates may be for you.

If you know you want to build in the South Bay, but you’re not sure where, give us a call. We’d be happy to speak with you about your vision for your new home and the type of community you’re looking for. We live and work here and have expert advice about which town (and its building codes and California zoning restrictions) are best suited for your dream house.

Thanks for reading,

Hawlie Ohe

Hawlie headshot for home air purifiers

Hawlie Ohe heads White Sands Interiors, and she and her husband are raising two boys along the South Bay coast. Hawlie brings the curiosity that fueled her first career, as a journalist, to her interior design approach: Who are you, who do want to be, and how can this space get you there? Great design makes you feel present and engaged, and Hawlie is here for it. Because she wants you to help you be “here” (in this space, in this moment), too.

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