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Thread: Minimum heights/densities?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Minimum heights/densities?

    We have requirements in a few of our urban redevelopment zones for minimum heights or densities. As in, any building must be at least three stories in height. This seems simple but in practice is quite complicated, and I wonder if it is in some ways impeding good interim development that would get activity and life to those zones.

    This is not the first place I have run into this idea.

    What do you all think of it? Do you use it in your burb? Are you thinking its a good idea, a bad idea, indifferent? Is this a case of letting the perfect potentially get in the way of the good, or is it more of an "ask for what you really want" situation?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    I think in your city, which is very small and dense, it makes lots of sense.* A single story building in a key area can waste lots of potential. In my suburban town, there is no such rule but it is something to think about for new construction in village areas.

    By making something like minimum height a requirement you do have to be careful of the impact on pre-existing buildings. If not written correctly, there may be unintended consequences in that an existing 1 story building will be "non-conforming" and won't be able to expand at all unless it becomes a 3 story.


    * I was at 2 presentations last week about your city so I'm impressed with what you all are doing.

  3. #3
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    We have a traditional pedestrian oriented downtown that is also a Historic District, but we have a mix of 1, 2, 3 story Main Street style commercial buildings throughout and a bunch of converted 1.5 & 2+ story single family houses.

    Our underlying zoning district requires a 0 foot setback from the front lot lines (along the sidewalk) for the buildings and a maximum 60 foot building height. And then the Historic District reviews for compatibility and materials of the building, but not the site planning.

    In my experience and reading, I think a mandatory minimum height/stories typically has good intentions, but difficult in practice (as you've seen). I would think that removing the mandatory requirement is a good idea, and turn it into an incentive - like 'you get an FAR or DU bonus if minimum 3 occupied stories' or 'get a xx% reduction to required parking', etc.

    My position is that with appropriate site planning and detailing, a one story building can be as much a benefit to the community as a 3 story building.

    Just remember that you're stuck with the building for the next 50+ years at least.

    Sometimes we try to plan for outcomes too myopically. Good luck.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    Good feedback. We have decent language allowing additions at less than three stories to existing buildings if the addition is closer to the street than the building. The goal there is to build a street wall.

    I actually think the minimum heights can work OK if there is thought given to how to allow for exceptions without opening the door wide open.

    This district also requires structured parking, which we are working on making a little more flexible for small lots where it doesn't make sense.

    And thanks, Seabishop, for the kind words. It's a fun city.

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