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Thread: Per block rental limits

  1. #1
    Cyburbian SideshowBob's avatar
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    Per block rental limits

    I am staffing a committe of residents nearby a smallish university (8000 students or so).

    They are meeting to talk about how to address problems of density and parking demand from the student population. A formerly SF (primarily owner occupied) is turning into primarilly student housing. So they are talking density, aestheics (paved backyards, etc) and parking demand.

    One thing they want to do, that I am not entirely comfortable with is to limit the number of rental per block to two or three. I am fairly new to the zoning game and I wonder whether this is legal. Does anyone's zoning code contain such a provision?
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  2. #2
    Better check with the municipal attorney -- a limitation on the housing based on occupancy (e.g., rental v owner-occupied) may not be permissible under your state statutes. It might be okay under the Fair Housing Act but that doesn't mean someone wouldn't challenge it on those grounds as well.

    Get the college/university people involved now, if they aren't already. They are the reason the housing is changing to rental so they need to participate (and reveal if they plan to build better student housing any time soon to help the community with the problem they are creating with schlock dorms that students don't want to live in...).

    Otherwise, develop reasonable development standards and DON'T GRANT ANY VARIANCES EVER!
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Even if it is legal - which I tend to doubt - I don't think a provision such as this would be enforceable. The most effective programs to influence student housing in neighborhoods have combined manipulation of the market with citizen involvement in the neighborhood.

    Having lived in three and worked in two college towns, I have spent many, many days researching the issue.
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Not in MA

    Quote Originally posted by SideshowBob
    I am staffing a committe of residents nearby a smallish university (8000 students or so).

    They are meeting to talk about how to address problems of density and parking demand from the student population. A formerly SF (primarily owner occupied) is turning into primarilly student housing. So they are talking density, aestheics (paved backyards, etc) and parking demand.

    One thing they want to do, that I am not entirely comfortable with is to limit the number of rental per block to two or three. I am fairly new to the zoning game and I wonder whether this is legal. Does anyone's zoning code contain such a provision?
    This is certainly not legal in Massachusetts, where rent control and ownership limitations (which were always addressed in general bylaws and ordinances, not zoning) were outlawed. I would suspect that most places would agree this is not a zoning issue- although you can "back door" it by defining families as no more than 3-4 nonrelated individuals (also dubious legally but I've seen it nonetheless.)

    In any case, it seems very hard to enforce.

    The problem in Mass. is usually the opposite- too many condos, not enough rentals.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Since we limit the number of single family houses on a lot, and limit the height of fences, and limit the distance a house can be built toward the street, why can't we limit the number of designated parking spaces allowed in the Front Yard (or exposed to view from a public street)?

    Wouldn't this attack the main problem of traffic generation? It is easy to see if the provision is being violated. It is easy to give citations for violations both in the Front Yard (and in the street, if prohibited there, too).

    This would easily accomodate vehicle needs for Single Family residences. Where there is a demonstrated hardship, a waiver can be granted on a case by case basis for true family use.

    Yes, guests might occassionally be inconvenienced, but this is a Single Family neighborhood, it was there first, and it is important to your community for it to be protected.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Streck
    Since we limit the number of single family houses on a lot, and limit the height of fences, and limit the distance a house can be built toward the street, why can't we limit the number of designated parking spaces allowed in the Front Yard (or exposed to view from a public street)?

    Wouldn't this attack the main problem of traffic generation? It is easy to see if the provision is being violated. It is easy to give citations for violations both in the Front Yard (and in the street, if prohibited there, too).

    This would easily accomodate vehicle needs for Single Family residences. Where there is a demonstrated hardship, a waiver can be granted on a case by case basis for true family use.

    Yes, guests might occassionally be inconvenienced, but this is a Single Family neighborhood, it was there first, and it is important to your community for it to be protected.
    Trying to manage student occupancy by limiting parking is a common technique. In my experience, it has very limited success. Several things may happen:
    - Landlords do not tell students of the parking limitations (just like they fail to mention occupancy limits) and the students have to confront the issue in fall.
    - On street parking becomes an issue, and if you eliminate it from the neighborhood it just shifts elsewhere, while residents complain that they have nowhere to park.
    - Students may leave their cars in campus lots or elsewhere, but still overcrowd the rental housing.
    - Illegal parking on lawns becomes a problem.
    - Parking enforcement becomes an issue, and a sizable cost to the city.

    The concept is good, but it isn't very effective in limiting rentals.
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Response primarily to Cardinal:

    Ah yes, and the tenant may rent the dwelling, but not tell the landlord that he will be having six or ten of his closest friends living there, too (at least for the first semester).

    But there is still the "cost" of collecting all those traffic fines for illegally parking on the street and in the front yard on the grass. Word spreads fast, especially with a legible notice taped onto the vehicle indicating the nature of the violation for others to see.

    There is also the benefit that it is the police department that is enforcing the parking regulations (as they are accustomed to doing), and bringing all that revenue into the city (that should get more city council support). One less enforcement provision for the Planning Department.

    I appreciate your vast experience (based on the number of posts alone). Aren't these legitimate traffic violations that should be enforced regardless of housing density regulations? Don't most cities commonly have overnight parking restrictions that could be used to benefit the residents?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian SideshowBob's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Masswich
    I would suspect that most places would agree this is not a zoning issue- although you can "back door" it by defining families as no more than 3-4 nonrelated individuals (also dubious legally but I've seen it nonetheless.)

    Thank you!

    They also want to do the three nonrelated individuals per household. I said that if they do that, the need for the per-block limitation would be precluded. Well, they seem to be going for overkill. They want both. I am frankly hoping to find this per-block thing to be illegal. I am drafting a letter to the city attorney now.

    As for the dubious legalities of family defininition. We do that already, at 5 (they want it lowered to 3). I found that almost all zoning codes I looked at had some kind of limit, so it must usually be holding up (or not getting challenged).
    Fighting congestion by widening roads is like fighting obesity by buying larger clothes.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Streck
    ...I appreciate your vast experience (based on the number of posts alone). Aren't these legitimate traffic violations that should be enforced regardless of housing density regulations? Don't most cities commonly have overnight parking restrictions that could be used to benefit the residents?
    I have been part of trying to find a solution to many of the enforcement issues related to parking. In communities in which I have worked, we often found that the cost of enforcement exceeded the revenues generated by ticketing vehicles. You need to conduct enforcement regularly enough that people will not assume that they can get away with parking illegally. This requires the time of an officer, vehicle, and other equipment. In small towns it is not uncommon for there to be only a couple squad cars on duty, at least at certain times of the day. It is too easy for these to get called away to other duties, and even when they are not, is it a better use of the officer's time to enforce parking or to patrol streets? We reduced the cost and shifted the burden some by using community service officers, but it still did not break even as a cost issue.

    Overnight parking restrictions brought up another set of issues. Students leaving bars at closing time would decide to leave their cars and walk home, because they had been drinking. This was a behaviour that we wanted to encourage, yet ticketing them would send the opposite message. We would also have legitimate cases in which an overnight guest of a neighborhood resident had no place to park. For a while we tried a permit system - call the police department with the license plate and you could get permission to leave a car on the street overnight. As you can expect, this was abused by some and on the advice of the city attorney, had to be dropped.
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Addressing the original question regarding limiting the number of rental units to two or three per block:

    Seems like you have a legitimate approach: "The Single Family Preservation District." Rental housing could be declared a BUSINESS and could be restricted in certain (college area) Single Family Residential Districts to no more than two or three per block. It may work out better to have some reasonable percent (like 10% or 20%?) that could be applied across the board. This could be based on first application, first allowed. Some houses may have to be grandfathered in (for the current academic year, or lease period, or four year term), but it seems like you have a mechanism for control.

  11. #11
    On what grounds do you declare rental housing a business? If you reply that there is a cash transaction taking place viz a vis a rental payment each month, then how is that different than a mortgage payment? A single-family owner-occupied (with mortgage) would meet the definition of a business as well, would it not?

    Be careful as well of occupancy limits -- what happens when someone decides that neighborhood would be ideal for a group home of oh, say, 12 unrelated people with physical disabilities?
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker
    On what grounds do you declare rental housing a business? If you reply that there is a cash transaction taking place viz a vis a rental payment each month, then how is that different than a mortgage payment? A single-family owner-occupied (with mortgage) would meet the definition of a business as well, would it not?

    Be careful as well of occupancy limits -- what happens when someone decides that neighborhood would be ideal for a group home of oh, say, 12 unrelated people with physical disabilities?
    You are right. I don't know a good way to work with that to solve the problem.

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