1204 Gravelia Street, Altadena, CA 91001

Ready to Build.

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What is the zoning of the property?

The property is zoned R-1 (single-family home). As of January 1, 2017, new state legislation also allows building an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) on R-1 property, provided other applicable building rules such as setback requirements and fire code rules are followed. An example of an ADU would be a small second house, up to 1200 sqft., which could be rented out to a tenant, providing rental income.

Why hasn’t anyone built here already?

Until April 21, 2017, the Lincoln Avenue Water Company had a moratorium that prohibited new connections to the water distribution system for several years. Before the moratorium, the owner at that time began the process of building himself a home. He was partially finished getting building permits approved by Los Angeles County when the moratorium started. Before his attempt, there was another water moratorium. The time before that water moratorium was also before the housing bubble, and property values in Altadena were a lot lower then. Because part of the property is sloped, the foundation will be more expensive (see below), so property values probably weren’t high enough yet to make it a compelling investment. Now property in Altadena is worth a lot more than it was in the early 2000s, so building a house today should be a great investment.

How much would a new home on this property be worth?

2017 comps in this neighborhood are approximately $490 per sqft. The Los Angeles County building ordinances will allow construction of a home up to 2904 sqft. on this lot. Considering the beautiful quiet location adjacent to the national forest trails, the amazing view you would have from a second story, and the fact that there are very few homes in Pasadena and Altadena that were built less than 50 - 100 years ago, I think a new home built on this property could easily be worth significantly more than $490 per sqft.

Is financing available?

Yes, financing is available from U.S. Bank. They offer loans for purchasing vacant land. Those loans can then be turned into construction loans and then home mortgages after construction is complete, with no need to refinance or pay additional closing costs. View the PDF flyer for more information or apply now.

What trails and protected lands are nearby?

The Southwest boundary of the property borders Angeles National Forest land owned by the government. The valley in this part of the forest is considered part of the Arroyo Seco. Walking downhill (Southwest) from 1204 Gravelia Street brings you to a trail that intersects with the Gabrielino Trail, El Prieto Trail, and Brown Mountain Trail, at the location where El Prieto Canyon splits off from the Arroyo Seco. These trails lead up the canyons and ridges and connect with the network of trails that span the vast and beautiful Angeles National Forest, San Gabriel National Monument, and San Bernadino National Forest.

What utilities are available? How big is the lot?

The county assessor’s office has three different numbers on file (four if you include the number written on the tract map), but all of those numbers seem to be wrong. This took forever to figure out during my research. A professional surveyor did a survey a few years ago and calculated the area to be 7619 sqft. The survey is available upon request. The surveyor’s measurement matches pretty closely with the number you get if you calculate the area using the angles and distances described by the metes and bounds in the legal description. (You still remember your high school geometry, right?) Since these numbers agree with each other and the way they were calculated makes sense, I’m sure the surveyor got it right and the assessor’s office got it wrong. If you’re wondering about the “useable area” number on the assessor’s website, my understanding of that number is that it is smaller than the actual lot size because part of the lot is sloped, and therefore considered less useable.

How steep is the slope?

For a precise answer to this question, a topographic survey and a geological slope report are available upon request. Here’s a general description. The upper section of the property is pretty flat. That section is roughly triangular, bounded by the North property line (along the street), the East property line (part way South along the wood fence) and a diagonal going through the big cedar tree in the middle. The slope of the rest of the property varies from place to place, but has some sections that are roughly 3:1 and some sections that are roughly 2:1. I have walked the entire property and I never felt like I was in danger of falling, so I don’t consider it very steep.

What kind of foundation will I need to build?

In order to comply with the county’s permitting requirements, the previous owners had to hire geologists and engineers to prepare reports on the soil and slope stability. Those reports are available upon request. They recommend that the foundation should be built on reinforced concrete piles that are footed in the terrace deposits below the colluvium and fill soil. In other words, you’ll drill holes into the ground and fill them up with reinforced concrete, then you’ll attach the grade beams of your house on top of the concrete, just like a pier. This type of foundation is significantly more expensive than a normal foundation, but after the foundation is built, I think the rest of your construction costs should be pretty normal. When I was considering buying this property, I asked a builder come out to look at the property. I asked him for a rough ballpark estimate for how much the foundation would cost, and he estimated probably $60k - $90k, depending on a number of engineering and design details that I haven’t decided on yet. I have no expertise in this area, so I’m taking his word for it. My understanding is that it should be the most expensive step of the construction process, assuming you’re not planning to install gold-plated toilet seats or something.

What city and county regulations and ordinances apply?

First of all, there is no city. Altadena is an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County. The regulations and ordinances and building codes of the City of Los Angeles and the City of Pasadena and other nearby cities do not apply. Only the county’s rules apply (and of course the state and federal laws).

Are those trees protected by the county?

A gardener I hired told me the two trees in the middle of the property are deodar cedar trees. I looked up that species on the internet and it looks right to me. I asked a county employee at the Department of Regional Planning office on Baldwin Ave. and he told me only oak trees are protected in unincorporated LA County. I also looked up the regulations online and the only regulation I saw only mentioned oak trees. Many cities in LA County protect other species of trees, but in unincorporated LA County I believe only oak trees are protected, so I think there’s no problem cutting down the two big trees in the middle of the property. On the other hand, the bigger of the two cedars is a really beautiful tree. If I build instead of sell, I might try to build around it rather than cut it down. On the other side of the property line to the West, there are a couple oak trees that overhang the fence, so there is a “shadow” of several feet along the West property line that is protected by the oak tree ordinances, but most of that area would be within the side yard setback requirement anyway, so they’re not really a factor.

Is Gravelia Street a private road?

Partially. The public section of road ends a couple doors east of the property. Beyond that point, the road is a private road on the property of 1210 Gravelia Street. There is an easement to use the road to access 1204 Gravelia Street, so 1204 Gravelia Street is legally accessible. One nice implication of the road situation is that, according to the employee I spoke with in the Land Development Division of DPW, there isn’t a highway dedication along the north boundary. This means the area all the way up to the North property line counts toward the front yard setback distance requirement; there’s no requirement to add additional distance for a potential road expansion.


I did quite a lot of research when buying this land. As far as I know, there's nothing that prevents anyone from building a house on it. In fact, I am planning to build here if I don't get a reasonable offer soon. However, building a house is a complicated process and it's entirely possible that I've overlooked something or that I've received wrong information at some point. Therefore, I refuse to be held liable if any information on this page turns out to be false or misleading. I'm putting this information up to try to be helpful, but you are responsible for doing your own research to verify that this property will meet your needs. Put more formally....