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Thread: Justifications for implementing more appropriate zoning.

  1. #1
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    Justifications for implementing more appropriate zoning.

    We have several older sections of town where sometime in the 70's, an 8000 ft2 zoning was applied despite most lots being less than this. Due to this inappropriate zoning, more than 70% of the properties are non-compliant based upon lot area, width, or setbacks.
    As a result, most changes to a structure must be approved by the board of adjustment, a body whose opinions can often be arbitrary.
    We are trying to change this to a 5000 ft2 district with reduced setbacks to better reflect the actual development patterns.
    Surprisingly (or not), we are getting resistance from residents who like the status quo and are worried about towering Mc-Mansions built next door to their cottage. There is nothing in the new zoning which would encurage this other than perhaps the reduced setbacks. The homes in these areas are mostly from 70 to 300 years old, but most are not protected by historical designation. There are very few empty lots and this change will make a few larger lots sub-dividable, but nothing significant.
    I'm trying to come up with some arguments in favor of re-zoning other than "it's the right thing to do" and "makes staff's life easier". Any suggestions?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    The approach you take can address resident fears. Perhaps an overlay for existing platted lots? A maximum FAR?

    Other cities have dealt with the same issues. In addition to adding time, regulation and cost for the homeowner, and requiring city staff time, not allowing minor additions and improvements can eventually lead to disinvestment in the neighborhood.
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    I agree with Cardinal. Anti-teardown ordinances often regulate FAR or lot coverage to limit building sizes (including accessory buildings like garages). This seem like the simplest method for accomplishing your goal. If you wanted to get fancy, you could regulate solar access, set a maximum building size (irrespective of FAR), regulate driveway/garage location (i.e. no snouts), or regulate roof pitch or other design aspects.

    One of the most offensive teardowns I ever saw was in Teaneck, NJ, where someone tore down a 1930's era Tudor and replaced it with what was essentially a box built out to the maximum height and minimum setbacks. Flat roof, no garage (just a little stubby parking pad in the front of the house), no front, back, or side yard that wasn't required by setbacks. Just a big ugly block of house, surrounded by a lovely 1930's neighborhood. I wish I had a picture.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Hopefully the number of homeowners who stand to benefit by the change would outweigh the number of people who are just fearful of their neighbor's renovations. Max lot coverage is another tool to prevent mansionization.

    Do what politicians do and call it the "Homeowners' Freedom Act." You could possibly figure out the amount new tax revenue possible with the new zone.

    I assume this area is sewered?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nevereven View post
    We have several older sections of town where sometime in the 70's, an 8000 ft2 zoning was applied despite most lots being less than this. Due to this inappropriate zoning, more than 70% of the properties are non-compliant based upon lot area, width, or setbacks.
    As a result, most changes to a structure must be approved by the board of adjustment, a body whose opinions can often be arbitrary.
    We are trying to change this to a 5000 ft2 district with reduced setbacks to better reflect the actual development patterns.
    Surprisingly (or not), we are getting resistance from residents who like the status quo and are worried about towering Mc-Mansions built next door to their cottage. There is nothing in the new zoning which would encurage this other than perhaps the reduced setbacks. The homes in these areas are mostly from 70 to 300 years old, but most are not protected by historical designation. There are very few empty lots and this change will make a few larger lots sub-dividable, but nothing significant.
    I'm trying to come up with some arguments in favor of re-zoning other than "it's the right thing to do" and "makes staff's life easier". Any suggestions?
    As above, in one of my previous towns this situation occurred (not uncommon). We implemented both a max lot coverage and max FAR to alleviate community concerns. Trouble is, when I left no one knew how to make the FAR work as intended (small town) - so be sure you implement something easily apprehended and workable to the talent there.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    I kind of like Cardinal's idea of an overlay.

    The thought that came to my mind was was something of a "two-track" zoning district. What if the minimum lot size was reduced to what the majority of the lots actually are (along with the minimum length and width dimensions as appropriate), and the minimum setbacks for structures were made proportionate to the lot size. So, the bigger the lot, the bigger the setbacks. What if you wrote the front setback to be, say, "30% of the lot and not less than 25 feet". Do the same with the side and rear, so they grow with the lot size. Make the maximum lot coverage and FAR proportionate, too, with something like "40% of the first 5,000 sqft of lot area, and then 10% of the remaining lot area", or whatever. Then apply the same maximum height for all the lots. Under this, the larger lots would not have building envelopes that would be huge when compared to the mostly smaller lots in the district.

    The fear of "towering" sounds like a concern of being dwarfed by another structure, rather than just a really large lot next door. Set a limit on how big the building envelope can get, so that no matter how large the lot gets, one building can not seem out of place with the others. Anyone wanting to build a "tower" would have to go to BOA, while smaller, more proportionate structures are allowed by right. Call it the "anti-towering" ordinance.
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Great advice going and it reminded me of something: The first municipality I worked for faced this exact situation and we created an overlay just like Cardinal suggests to fix the problem, and, like Sea Bishop suggests jokingly, we called it the "Residential Stabilization Overlay" to sell it. We talked endlessly about how it would encourage re-investment in the aging housing stock. What you've got to teach your neighborhood is that though it may seem counter-intuitive, this change is what may save the neighborhood they love.
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  8. #8
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    Answers and an update...

    First I'll answer some questions.

    The area has sewer, and in fact includes town hall and police station.

    There aren't any worried about attracting home buyers to the area. A small cottage will cost you 300K. Home owners are mostly retired or absentee.

    We already have proportional side setbacks. These were added recently as a stopgap. The worry was if you get a major hurricane, does everyone have to meet the unreasonable setbacks or go in front of the board of adjustment? In addition to the proportional setbacks, we allow building in a pre-event envelope without a variance.

    As this is a small town (pop 4k), regulation needs to be simple. We have added a 50% max impervious surface to the new zoning, but there seems to be little desire for additional changes at this time. We are so behind in so many areas that we need to keep things as simple as possible until we can catch up.


    Now an update.

    Our first public hearing went poorly. Residents voiced many concerns (for what seemed like hours). There were worries about global warming and water quality but very few concerns had anything to do with zoning. We've come up with a 3 page document which attempts to answer all the questions which were pertinent (a FAQ). This is being sent out in advance of our next public hearing.

    Despite the way the meeting went, the town commissioners are still in favor of the rezoning.

    We've also found some old maps from the 1800's which clearly show the original lots as 50' x 100'.

    Our next hearing is in three weeks.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nevereven View post
    First I'll answer some questions.

    The area has sewer, and in fact includes town hall and police station.

    There aren't any worried about attracting home buyers to the area. A small cottage will cost you 300K. Home owners are mostly retired or absentee.

    We already have proportional side setbacks. These were added recently as a stopgap. The worry was if you get a major hurricane, does everyone have to meet the unreasonable setbacks or go in front of the board of adjustment? In addition to the proportional setbacks, we allow building in a pre-event envelope without a variance.

    As this is a small town (pop 4k), regulation needs to be simple. We have added a 50% max impervious surface to the new zoning, but there seems to be little desire for additional changes at this time. We are so behind in so many areas that we need to keep things as simple as possible until we can catch up.


    Now an update.

    Our first public hearing went poorly. Residents voiced many concerns (for what seemed like hours). There were worries about global warming and water quality but very few concerns had anything to do with zoning. We've come up with a 3 page document which attempts to answer all the questions which were pertinent (a FAQ). This is being sent out in advance of our next public hearing.

    Despite the way the meeting went, the town commissioners are still in favor of the rezoning.

    We've also found some old maps from the 1800's which clearly show the original lots as 50' x 100'.

    Our next hearing is in three weeks.
    I'm glad your community is concerned about development and global warming.

    Surely they know, then, that large-lot single-fam is worse for the UHI than smaller development. And with the new NPDES guidelines, stormwater can be treated prior to entering receiving waters and still made an amenity (as hedonic studies have shown that the WTP for a nice pond is higher than some concrete thing).

    And I'm glad the commissioners took the constructive feedback into account and are presumably going to act in the best interests of the community.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Tobinn's avatar
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    Nonconformities

    Can you add a clause that says that any lot of record dated prior to XXXX is considered conforming? That might be an easier sell than an overlay or a code revamp - it also may not go nearly far enough to really fix the problem.

    Maybe hold a public meeting or three with some overlay maps highlighting every nonconforming property (with regard to lot dimensions and/or area). List everything those homeowners can't do with their lots and see if that flies the owners.

    another thought; we've had some issues in the past with people not able to get homeowner's insurance for property on nonconforming lots without a termination of status of nonconformity. For example, if a lot doesn't meet the minimum size required by code then you can't build by right on it. Some insurance companies won't insure something that essentially, to them, has no value (I guess value is measured in the ability to recreate something).

    Maybe talk about the resale value of nonconforming lots - which could be lower than conforming lots.
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