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Thread: When density and rural collide

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
    Oct 2005

    When density and rural collide

    I have a zoning ordinance up for first reading this month that would drastically change how the county calculates Clustering Densities. In my opinion and the opinion of the Planning Commission going off of gross density down to a 6,000 sf lot is not the answer and we have way too many 6, 000 sf lots in the county already. So the answer currently was to change it to Net Acreage instead of Gross.

    Well, obviously the home builders assoc. is all over my case saying this will increase sprawl, increase price, and make life worse and taxes more etc. etc. I agree density is a good thing, for the most part, but as you get away from the urban suburban to the fringe areas of the county I believe the density should get less and the lots bigger as you get into the "country side".

    My ordinance lacks in many places (I've been on the job 5 months and this is change #3) but I have a 3 step process I believe will work starting with the net acreage then working on our less than accessible bonus density, and then moving on to required open space via the sub regs.

    Here's the $64,000 question...
    I feel, as we move from urban to ultra rural the densities should fall off upwards of acre lots and more. Who here has a similar situation in their township or county and how have you addressed the sprawl / affordability questions? Also, am I out of line changing this part of the ordinance and in this case, what is being called sprawl is only thinning out as you reach the outermost spaces of the region.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
    Jan 2005
    Land of Confusion
    A subdivision at that gross residential density is very suburban, in fact what your describing (6,000 sf lots) is the protypical single family sprawl subdivision (ala S. Florida, Atlanta, etc.). Large enough for a single family home, but not quite big enough to fit a decent size pool or a shed in the backyard. Open space is lacking except for some marginal wetlands reserved for the HOA. Buffers from adjacent roadways and other uses will be thin, and surely fail to provide a more rural feel than your existing suburban areas.

    If I were you I would explain to developers the marketability of larger lots, particularly in terms of the amenities they offer to homeowners. Bigger pools, somewhat of a yard=more privacy, tree cover, etc.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
    Jul 2007
    Rural Midwest
    Your situation seems interesting. TV interviews, articles, letters to the editor, started in May 2007 and major changes putting you in the lime light. I hope your past probation!

    I am having a hard time visualizing your situation and what you define ultra rural as. I think that there are two concepts at work here: Density and lot size. Density could be defined as the number of lots permitted within a given area. Density can then be regulated in two ways: Minimum lot size requirements (as in 1 plus acre lots) or number of dwelling units permitted in a given area based on a density calculation with a given set of acres. The first form of density seems to be the old way of thinking defined by outdated ordinances. The second way-- density regulated by number of dwelling units (and coupled with required open space) seems like a better approach.

    The following defintions of density come from our county zoning and subdivison ordinances. Note the connection between minimum lot size and the density credit.

    Density: A ratio describing the net acreage to establish a dwelling unit and its accessory buildings on a given parcel of land as permitted by the applicable zoning distirct in which the parcel lies, as well as the applicable comprehensive plan(s) or provisions set forht in the (insert county) Agricultural Preservation Plan, whichever is greater.

    Density Credit: A point system utilized as part of the application of a Planned Unit Development Cluster Development or Conservation Subdivision derived by assigning a value of one (1) credit to each lot that can be created, as determined by the appicable zoning distirct's minimum lot size or comprehensive plan(s), whichever is more restrictive, and rounded down to the nearest while number.

    Density Policy: A ratio describing the net acreage required to establish a lot or dwelling unit on a given parcel of land as permitted by the applicable zoning distirct in which the parcel lies as well as the applicable comprehenisve plan(s) or provisions set forth in the (insert county) Agricultural Preservation Plan, whichever is more restrictive.

    Example: Base zoning is agriculture which requires that the minimum lot size to build a new house be 35 acres. So the old way of density required the creation of a 35-acre lot. The new form of density allows the creation of say a 3-acre lot using the 35-acre density credit. In our case we require a conservation easmeent on the difference between the density defined by the minimum lot size and the size of the lot. So in this example an easement would be placed on 32 acres to maintain the density.

    Ok-- lots of text and it probably did not offer any assistance. Maybe it did. I guess the main point is the density is more than just lot size. As far as the affordability question goes-- that's impossible. Planners cannot control the market unless it's inclusionary zoning.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
    Mar 2006
    Machesney Park, IL
    6000 sq ft rural lots?! I take it they aren't on private well and septic.

    In my neck of the woods, anything that isn't hooked up to public sewer has to be at least 40,000 sq ft, per the health department. So, that is our Rural Residential district's minimum lot size.

    As for the sprawl issue, you should still have a development plan that shows where your 1-ac residential lots should be permitted in the future, so they are located in sensible patterns. And the homebuilders really shouldn't worry, since each of those lots/houses would bring in more money. It would probably all even out for them.

    From a tax-base perspective, homes on these bigger lots get assessed and taxed higher, and they usually have few school-aged kids (often their kids are grown and out) so they aren't sucking from the school district as much.

    I totally agree with you that 1-ac lots can be a good thing, if located in the right place.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
    Aug 2001
    The Emerald Coast
    Our county is divided into three service areas: urban, suburban, and rural.

    The range of densities in the urban area is 8-25 units per acre based on location (15 max. if in coast high hazard area) and zoning.

    Suburban allows up to five units per acre subject to the availability of central services and paved roads.

    Rural is limited to between one unit per 10 to 20 acres based on comp plan land use designation.
    Habitual Offender

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