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Thread: Why are single-family houses so sacred?

  1. #1
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Why are single-family houses so sacred?

    I ask....for enlightenment.

    The municipality I live in is looking to rezone some areas to a less intense residential district. The targeted areas are currently zoned medium to high density multi-family. They are looking to make them single-family or low density two-family.

    This push for rezoning was ignited this past summer when a developer was looking to build an 11 unit condo building on a street of mainly single-family houses that is zoned high density residential. Well, the neighbors exploded with accusations of ruining their properties and destroying the "character". The elected officials took heed and instituted a moratorium on demolitions in this areas.

    Well, now the rezonings are coming before the Plan Commission. The major concept in the staff report constantly refers to "preserving the character" and that single family areas zoned high density multi-family are not "compatible" with what the zoning district allows.

    My municipality is a desirable 1st ring suburb of Chicago with high taxes, old housing stock, great transit access, and high property values.

    Therefore, my question is why does the preservation of single-family houses and uses always seem to be the most 'loved' and automatically have less impact than multi-family?

    BTW, I will be going to the PC meeting tonight to give my balanced and fair opinion.
    Last edited by mendelman; 07 Jan 2008 at 12:41 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    Therefore, my question is why doesn't the preservation of single-family houses and uses always seem to be the most 'loved' and automatically have less impact than multi-family?

    BTW, I will be going to the PC meeting tonight to give my balanced and fair opinion.
    There may be a perception that single-family homeowners have higher incomes and more stability and therefore carry more "weight" and likelihood of voting/expressing their opinions.

    Seems like the big boo-boo was previously permitting single-family homes to be built in a high-density area.

    I've handled a few cases like this and with new commissioners on board since the SF "intrusion" was allowed, they've dismissed the neighbors' complaints and approved high density adjacent to SF homes.

  3. #3
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Zoning Goddess View post
    Seems like the big boo-boo was previously permitting single-family homes to be built in a high-density area.
    In this case it wasn't really a "boo-boo" per se, but a high density multi-family district that permits single-family structures as of right to prevent a gigantic number of nonconforming uses/buildings.

    To clarify, most of this municipality was subdivided prior to 1920 and practically built out by 1930.
    Last edited by mendelman; 07 Jan 2008 at 12:41 PM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Whew, been awhile since I have posted...

    Well isn't the single-family house the "American Dream"??? I tend to think in general it is, though in some areas not as much as others. But I think these people have a point. Living in single-family and then having multi-family is a change in character, but obviously there is some break point and that type of use seems to be a reasonable transition. Every case is different though.

    If its on the comp plan as such it would be fun trying to back peddle to change it, as per the Council directions (ie. PRESSURE). I personally don't have an issue with that if that is what the town's people want (assuming they understand the options), but as a planner it is really frustrating when comp plans are completed and then areas like this flip out after they had their fair shake at giving input. In my opinion the comp plan should give stability for the market - that includes developers, homeowners, businesses, etc...

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    Therefore, my question is why doesn't the preservation of single-family houses and uses always seem to be the most 'loved' and automatically have less impact than multi-family?
    One study I worked on for an older first ring suburb of Boston found that the number of police calls per unit were less for 2 and 4-8 family buildings than for single family homes. However, 3 and 9+ unit buildings had many more calls per unit. Condominiums, which can be in any size multi-family structure, had dramically fewer calls per unit.

    Fire calls were highest at 9+ unit buildings and lowest at 1, 2 and 3-unit structures.

    See page 24: http://www.stonehamlibrary.org/Final.pdf
    Last edited by jmello; 17 Nov 2006 at 9:07 AM.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    Few thoughts - maybe there is a concern that the units can/will at some point be converted to rentals. There may be a concern that there is not adequate parkland/open space around for children to play in and then they will be on their property and in the road, etc. etc. etc. Also, is the single family primarily one story, and what type of multi-family was being proposed? I can see it being out of character if the multi-family was smack dab in the middle of the single family and a different height, size issue.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    The area didn't get zoned high-density overnight. Are they shocked that an 11 unit building was proposed?

    Perhaps there needs to be a form analysis and a district-wide unit density anlaysis.

    SFD is sacrad because it is considered to be a symbol of stable, American family values. Apartments are a symbol of rude twenty-somethings, "transient" tenants, and social problems.

    If you design the apt building to look like a SFD (re: less density, compaitble form), that might ease some of the concern. multi-units can happily live together with single units.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian solarstar's avatar
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    $ - that's why. Developers can get a ton of money for sfd's. You said the area has "high property values" and the nimby attitude says to keep bldg sfd's and not multifamily (I'm surprised that they're okay with duplexes). Our public hearings for multifamily projects typically get public comments such as increased crime, lower property values in the neighborhood, increased traffic, etc. Except for the traffic, which can be addressed, the other stuff can't be proven but it still plays well politically here (which makes affordable housing an impossibility, but that's for another thread). BTW - how did the meeting go?

  9. #9
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Well, the meeting went pretty good. Lukily only 3 of the proposed 9 areas for down-zoning were proposed to down-zone to a single-family district.

    The others are proposed as medium density multi-family or two-family.

    Staff's presentation was pretty good and gave reasoning that was ok. Basically, areas that were 100% single-family buildings and uses were proposed to be single-family zoning. Areas with a mix of building forms and uses (SF & MF) were targeted more for two-family or medium density MF.

    There were many reasonable supporters of the down-zonings (I am kind of neutral-opposed) that gave plausibile reasons for support. Some were a little knee-jrk reactionary because a MF use/building would ruin the "character", whatever that means (esp. in mixed areas).

    Before the hearing was cont'd, staff did mention that this effort was to protect the single-family look of certain areas, but not necessarily single-family use. So buildings that were designed to be originally SF, but subsequently split into 2, 3, 4+ units may not cause the same scale of character "change".

    I did voice my opinion about the rezonings. I really couldn't (nor did want) to refute specific areas. But I did comment generally about lost potential housing stock, the affordable housing concerns, and that the allowable densities in the commercial districts be increased to balance out the losses with the rezonings.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

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