Underground Story in Altadena is Not a Basement?

dbaArchitects is working on a residential project in Altadena, which is controlled by the County of Los Angeles (with regard to Planning Regulations). The Owner of this house wants to put a “basement” under the house for an entertainment area, as he often has extended family over. We are stuck in a quandary: per the Altadena Area Community Standards District, the floor must be primarily above grade in order to consider it as a basement and use it as a habitable room. See the first image:

Description of the Basement as Published by Altadena Community Standards District

A floor that is primarily below grade is considered a “cellar”, but according to the Planning Department, a cellar cannot have habitable rooms.

This image shows the area that we are proposing to have as a Recreation Room below the first floor:

Ground Level Plan Showing the Area of the Basement

And this image shows the arrangement in section:

Section Through the House Showing the “Basement”

Apparently a basement and a cellar are not included in the overall floor area computation (GSA), which might have something to do with these distinctions. We have offered to include the lower story in the floor area calculations and proposed calling it a “subterranean story” in order to use it as a Recreation Room, but this has not yet been approved.

Other options are for the Owner to get a variance or administrative approval of some sort. It’s hard to believe that there are no traditional basements in houses in Altadena.

We are meeting with the Planner tomorrow to try to work this out. The struggle continues…

11/3/22 Update: We went to meet with the planner at 8am, during his published office hours and he wasn’t there. We met with another planner who had no ideas how to help us, but we did get the email information for a supervisor, who I will contact for help.

11/4/22 Update: The head planner, Kevin Finkel, is out of the office until Monday. Hopefully, we will hear a reply from him next week.

11/11/22 Update: We still haven’t heard from the head planner. And I suspect the city offices are closed today, Veteran’s Day. I emailed him a reminder, anyway.

11/14/22 Update: Good news! The head planner has agreed to review this issue and said he will get back to us.

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