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Thread: Examples of residential building permit caps

  1. #1
    Cyburbian MayorMatty's avatar
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    Examples of residential building permit caps

    The Town of Clarence, bedroom community to Buffalo, NY is quickly amortizing their 18-month long subdivision moratorium. In an effort to continue slowing growth the Town is considering whether to revise their residential building permit cap from 240 unit (170 inside subdivisions, 70 outside) downward further.
    Can any of you fellow Cyburbianites offer some examples of other communities in the US with such caps?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    I don't have any examples, but I do have a question:

    Is there any language in the local residential building cap law that provides for affordable housing exceptions or incentives?
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  3. #3

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    We have one here in Williston, VT. 80 new residential units per year (actually only 65 this year, the system is evolving), with only rare exceptions for pre-existing lots. It is both necessary, given the limitations on our infrastructure, and an incredible pain in the ---. I can provide you all of the details, if you like. Some highlights:

    The Town has had a cap for some time. It has almost never been out of court over this, although we will soon be (if no new action is filed). Some amendments we just adopted help substantially, but it is very difficult to make a cap fair. Landowner's needs don't match the pace of growth. If we have an elderly widow who needs to subdivide to afford the nursing home, she may not be able to, even though her land is suitable for and will eventually be subdivided.

    Out of 40+, only 2-3 town employees have salaries high enough to live here without a good second income in the family - in fact, in most cases (two teachers, two police officers) two town salaries are not enough to afford a home here. A few who bought homes some years ago are living here, but could not afford their own homes today. This affects morale and turnover. It is one of the reasons I am losing my most productive staff person.

    The growth cap multiplies miles traveled. Virtually everyone who works here in a retail or service occupation has to commute in (our residents, being docs, lawyers, etc., mostly commute out). Unless yours is strictly a bedroom community, you have to assume that lowering the cap will increase congestion.

    Having said all that, we do not have the sewer, school, or other facilities capacity to grow faster than the cap allows.

    PS: In response to SGB's query, Williston recently adopted a major incentive to build affordable housing, but within the cap. Unfortunately, an affordable home is going to generate just as much sewage as a market rate unit.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 07 Jun 2005 at 1:02 PM.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian MayorMatty's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SGB
    I don't have any examples, but I do have a question:

    Is there any language in the local residential building cap law that provides for affordable housing exceptions or incentives?
    We recently approved an assisted living housing project with 50 units which isn't affected by the cap. We also have several mobile home parks that are not affected.

    Our congestion is already bad. In the course of defending your cap what arguments has the opposition used?
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 07 Jun 2005 at 1:03 PM.

  5. #5
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    (In response to a deleted off-topic post:

    There's a difference in the perception of what "affordable housing" is, depending on the state of the local real estate market. The term "affordable" -- note the quotes -- is associated with a socioeconomic group below that which can afford typical housing in the area.

    Affordable housing in San Francisco - something the middle class and educated civil servants (planners, teachers, etc) can afford.
    Affordable housing in Buffalo - housing for the poorest of the poor..

    In San Francisco, something resembling a refrigerator carton will fetch $500,000. In Buffalo, a 1920s-era semi-bungalow in decent shape in Riverside or Kensington may sell for $50K at the most, a price even low wage service workers can afford. A dishwasher or convenience store clerk can buy a house in Buffalo. A mid-level planner, engineer or public defense attorney can't buy squat in San Francisco.

    One thing I'm running into with the comp plans I'm working on is strong resistance to any mention of "affordable housing". When housing for the middle class is already quite affordable, any mention of "affordable housing" conjurs up images of Section 8 projects and small Habitat for Humanity homes, not houses intended for middle class workers.

    Let's give Buffalo the economy of ... oh, Denver. If those same Clarence homes sold for $2M instead of $500K, nothing in the city is affordable because it's all being bought up and rehabbed or scraped off by yuppies, and Clarence residents can't eat dinner out because there are no restaurants -- after all, the staff can't afford to live in the region -- they'd be begging for affordable housing.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  6. #6
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    http://www.londonderry.org/images/planning/z15.pdf

    The above link will take you to our GMO. We do a yearly evaluation of the sustainability of growth (on a local & regional basis), and cap permits when "unsustainable growth" conditions exist. It's a relatively complex process, but works well for the most part.

    Affordable housing projects receive priority in our scoring system in the event that more permits are requested then are available.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  7. #7

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    I can explain the arguments made against Williston's cap, but if you are allowing building outside the cap, that implies that the cap is artificial. Then the attack is simple, direct, and likely to succeed.

    You are not allowed to slow growth just 'cuz, or for vague generalities like "quality of life." If the cap isn't based directly on an infrastructure limitation you are most likely toast. I can imagine an environmental limitation working in exactly the right place (Lake Tahoe comes to mind), but not in the suburbs.

    Here the arguments take several forms; One is technical. We haven't calculated the limitations on our sewage treatment plant (or other facilities) correctly. That is not an easy argument for a developer to win. The court will give great deference to the Town's logic, if there is any.

    The other arguments vary, but are all about equity in the administration of the cap. Williston's was biased against very small projects (they could never compete in the scoring system) and large projects - the structure made it impossible to do a large project within a time period that made sense to the owner, financial institutions, etc. We have improved both on both of those counts, and this allows us to settle a lawsuit I suspect we would have lost.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Lee, I always find your discussion of options, programs, strengths, weeknesses, analysis of solutions so insighful, even for somebody like me who is working is a completely divergent development environment.

    Even for planning options that I would not be in a position to agree with generally (growth limits etc...due to my work in the private sector) you truely want to get it right, for the best result with both property owner and community in mind.

  9. #9

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    Thanks, gkmo62u. Going down the middle is just my way.

    I am not a growth cap fan, BUT the reality here is that the Town has few choices: cap growth to ration the infrastructure in a reasonable way OR let the growth consume the rural portions of town, where it will rely on on-site sewage disposal AND/OR persuade the VT legislature to allow the Town to raise enough money to build facilities WITHOUT precipitating a taxpayer revolution, WHILE also leading other towns in finding a regional sewage treatment solution. Vermont has let growth sneak up on it without adequate investment in infrastructure that would had to have started back in the '80's.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Davis, CA has a unit allocation program where various developers need to apply for the next year's allocation of residential permits. Or at least that's the way it worked several years ago.

    I just did a quick check, and it looks like they are still doing the allocation system. For a copy of their code, click here.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian MayorMatty's avatar
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    It is funny to mention. There was a time in the town's recent history after their cost of services study was finished where the "issue" of the intended sales prices was discussed during the environmental review process for new subdivisions. Those good old boys were later removed from office by the plurality of voters. At the time the "break even" cost of residential homes was +/- $225,000. As long as the homes were going to sell for at least that, the project seemed to eventually get approved.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian MayorMatty's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nerudite
    Davis, CA has a unit allocation program where various developers need to apply for the next year's allocation of residential permits. Or at least that's the way it worked several years ago.

    I just did a quick check, and it looks like they are still doing the allocation system. For a copy of their code, click here.
    Fantastic example! Thank you.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Several Mass. Examples

    There are several examples in Massachusetts- most notably I am aware of several down on Cape Cod. I believe Bourne, Barnstable, Sandwich and Dennis all have some sort of cap- I think they mostly exempt affordable housing because the need is so great. I am not sure how well they work- there seem to be so many ways to grandfather in Massachusetts that it undermines good planning. Although there are ways to control grandfathering on Cape Cod via the Cape Cod Commission, the rest of the state is SOL.

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