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Thread: Your most compelling down-zoning argument.

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Your most compelling down-zoning argument.

    I have a large area that the county is looking to downzone on Monday coming up. I'm looking for anyone's rock solid arguments. These tracts abut a Federal Forest, many conservation easements exist already, some of the area is in a historic district, and there is no sewer but possible access to water. The current zoning (for the most part) is 30,000 sq. ft. lots but it is in the agricultural land use classification of the comp plan. I have a council member who is making the motion to downzone to R15 (15 acre minimum lot sizes and the only other option we have).

    What are some arguments you have used to compel council and public that it is a good thing and what really got their attention.

    Wish me luck come Monday night, I had an anxiety fit about presenting last night in the middle of the night I couldn't go back to sleep I was thinking about it too much.
    @GigCityPlanner

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Working in an urban area, I have not had to argue for such things in a rural context, so I would defer to others.

    but perhaps you should leave it to the council member that made the motion to argue the justification (if that's how it works where you are).

    Preseravtion of rural character, maybe?
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Joe Iliff's avatar
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    Well, I think you are kind of on the right track already. It would make sense to match the permitted dwelling unit per acre ratio to the permitted septic tank per acre ratio, if sewer would never be available. They would work in concert so that adequate service was always available, theoretically.

    If the water service and streets that serve the area are only planned to ever have a certain capacity, and 1 dwelling unit for every 30k sqft would exceed that capacity, that could be a good reason. No point in allowing more demand under the zoning that the local services and infrastructure could ever serve. If the service capacity increased in the future, the zoning could be amended to allow more demand.

    If you really want agricultural land uses in this area, you could bring up that they sometimes conflict with residential land uses. Sometimes people who move from the city to the county expecting some idyllic life are surprised by the noise, dust, smell, and hours of operation of an adjacent farm or ranch. The larger someone's property, the more they can buffer themself from these things.

    Dan could post his Code of the West thing from Colorado describing how rural reality can conflict with urban/suburban expectations.

    You might consider including the possibility of lots smaller than 15 acres (or whatever normal minimum size you set) when the unit per acre ratio remains at 1:15 (or whatever). Something that would allow cluster development of smaller lots, surrounded by conservation area, or land otherwise protected from development. This would make providing services to the same number of homes less expensive (because they would be close to a central location, rather than equally dispersed), and keep the unit per acre ratio the same.
    JOE ILIFF
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Large lot zoning is destructive

    Quote Originally posted by Tide View post
    I have a large area that the county is looking to downzone on Monday coming up. I'm looking for anyone's rock solid arguments. These tracts abut a Federal Forest, many conservation easements exist already, some of the area is in a historic district, and there is no sewer but possible access to water. The current zoning (for the most part) is 30,000 sq. ft. lots but it is in the agricultural land use classification of the comp plan. I have a council member who is making the motion to downzone to R15 (15 acre minimum lot sizes and the only other option we have).

    What are some arguments you have used to compel council and public that it is a good thing and what really got their attention.

    Wish me luck come Monday night, I had an anxiety fit about presenting last night in the middle of the night I couldn't go back to sleep I was thinking about it too much.
    Large lot zoning is obviously destructive of property values, creates sprawl, and can mess up land use paterns for generations. It is usually used to restrict growth, you know, "we need to keep 'them' out of here". Massachusetts finally had to put a stop to it when some bedroom communities were going to 5 and 10 acre zoning.
    Massachusetts law prohibits mandated lot size in excess of two acres and requires that each city or town provide areas with much smaller lot sizes. This has not solved the affordable housing problem but it has helped.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    You should also look into Transferable Development Rights, where you can limit the amount of development in one area but allow them to sell those development rights to other parts of the county that can handle the extra density. This way, the owners of the land that gets downzoned don't lose their economic benefits. This was done relatively successfully in Montgomery County, Maryland.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally posted by Inventor View post
    Large lot zoning is obviously destructive of property values, creates sprawl, and can mess up land use paterns for generations. It is usually used to restrict growth, you know, "we need to keep 'them' out of here". Massachusetts finally had to put a stop to it when some bedroom communities were going to 5 and 10 acre zoning.
    Massachusetts law prohibits mandated lot size in excess of two acres and requires that each city or town provide areas with much smaller lot sizes. This has not solved the affordable housing problem but it has helped.
    One cannot say simply that large lot zoning is destructive of property values (or creates sprawl, for that matter). Before you can make that claim, you must define what you mean by large lot zoning, understand the local real estate market, describe the specific market reactions to the zoning, and identify your time frame. Perhaps some downzoning will harm property values in the short run, or even in the long run, but it certainly isn't obvious (and it's hard not to be puzzled by claims that downzoning harms property values AND leads to unaffordable housing).

    There is ample empirical evidence that large lot zoning in fact enhances property values, especially over the long run. The literature generally agrees on the 3 impacts land use regulations have on land values: 1) the restrictive effect (limiting the amount of development) generally depresses land values; 2) the amenity effect (protecting the amenities of the place) increases land values; and 3) the supply effect (limiting the supply of lots in a given area) increases land values. Depending upon the place (its amenities, demand for rural lots, etc) the latter 2 positive impacts generally mitigate the negative impact on land values.

    This is not an esoteric or academic - or even purely economic - issue. Most opposition to growth management in rural areas stems from this basic misunderstanding. In fact, the 6 state "takings" initiatives introduced in the West last year were based on this false premise (as was Measure 37 in Oregon), evidence of how destructive this flawed conventional wisdom truly is.

    There have been several studies done in just the past few years that analyze land use regulations and land values. The most valuable, I believe, have been by Professor Bill Jaeger at Oregon St University. His studies show how Measure 37 compensation claims have no basis in fact - that the growth management regulations put in place in OR have not harmed property values. IMHO, required reading for every planner, especially rural ones.

    None of this is to say that downzoning is always a good idea - for us in the West it is almost always a bad idea in towns and mostly a good idea in the country - it just means that you can't assume that it will harm property values.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Thank you Randy for coming to my defense, I didn't realize there was any action on this thread, mine usually don't generate such discussion because they aren't black and white issues.

    Basically I'm attempting to go from 3/4 acre zoning in an area that is
    • A Scenic Corridor
    • Next to a National Forest
    • Within FEMA Floodzones
    • Not serviced by Water and Sewer and most likely will never
    • 30 Minutes from one of two different commercial centers

    All that said, I gave a pretty good presentation to the County Council. I thought it might move forward and provide us pending ordinance doctrine protection but instead it got tabled 3-2. One of the other councilman who was for it was absent so that would have made it 3-3 and the chairman who was viamently against it would have broken the tie making him the bad guy not me. We're looking at our options to keep moving forward.

    I know it's a property value issue and some investors will lose some money, but land shouldn't always be a guaranteed investment.
    @GigCityPlanner

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