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Thread: minimum lot sizes and smart growth?

  1. #1
    Member simulcra's avatar
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    minimum lot sizes and smart growth?

    Richland's smart-growth agenda includes a land-use plan that raises minimum lot sizes
    Um... Maybe I'm missing something, but how does raising minimum lot sizes make for smarter growth? You get sparser density and all that extra lot space gets cleared for astroturf lawns...

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Rem's avatar
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    Do they prohibit single dwellings on the larger lots? Maybe they are trying to encourage more multi-unit housing by protecting the subdivision pattern - ie. avoiding the need to consolidate lots in the future.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    A lot of "Smart growth" practices in many counties mandate massive (5+ acre) lots outside the cities. The result is super-sprawl, but it looks rural and dosen't impact county services, plus the lots are owned by more wealthy people than traditional middle-class sprawl so people in the county are happy.

    The normal sprawl just moves out to the next county so then people have to drive past all of the rich people in the "smart growth" county to get to the city.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    I think the main argument against small lots is the trend towards larger homes. Many smaller lots are platted in our county, then the builder comes in for multiple variances to expand the building envelope. Or the homeowners come in over the next few years, adding a room here, a porch there, etc., until you start having stormwater problems because the subdivision was not engineered to have 95% lot coverage. Small lots may help alleviate urban sprawl, but the way they're going in Florida, they certainly create a host of new problems.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Coming from a community with older pre WW-I areas that have major stormwater problems resulting from decades of infill and overbuilding on small lots fronting on 12' wide paved streets, I agree with Godess on this one. About 2 years ago we changed the standards from permitting lots as small as 6,000 s.f. and 40 feet wide to a new of 15,000 s.f and 100 feet wide.

    Sound like smartgrowth to an outsider? Prolly not. But if you're shoehorned on one of these lots / streets, your road's level of service is a "D" already, upgrading to a "C+" LOS is going to cost in the low seven figures, before stormwater regs are even accounted for, you realize that staus quo isnt exactly smartgrowth either.

    On a related note, jordanb is right too. Smartgrowth is not a one-size fits all approach to planning. You can not remove social forces or context sensitivity from the planning equation and expect to be successful. Despite what the Wisconsin Legislature thinks, the sooner practicing planners get their nose out of the theory books and into the pragmatic reality, the better chance we have of making smartgrowth more than this decade's trendy buzzword (can you say, "Pedestrian Mall?" I thought you could!") and the next decade's oops-we-did-it-again.

  6. #6
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    Somehow, single family houses on lots 6,000-15,000 square feet doesn't sound very "smart." You are working at densities that don't support any kind of transit or walkable/bikeable destinations or close-in jobs.

    Builders are very quick to catch on to new terms. The 6-15,000 square foot lots sounds to me like developers are using the "smart growth" terminology -- but building the same subdivisions they have been building over the past 60 years.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Originally posted by Wulf9
    Somehow, single family houses on lots 6,000-15,000 square feet doesn't sound very "smart." You are working at densities that don't support any kind of transit or walkable/bikeable destinations or close-in jobs.
    I am going to disagree with you. Smart Growth is not only building the next Kentlands or Seaside. There is a place for single-family homes on decently-sized lots. A good neighborhood has a mix of densities, including multi-family buildings and detached homes. These do not all need to be crowded upon each other. Walkability, mixed uses, land conservation, and other Smart Growth goals can be achieved with lots such as those described above.

    One of the most consistent failures of planners (especially planning students, instructors, and theorists) is the failure to realize that there are more urban forms than simply cities and suburbs. Small towns, rural hamlets, rolling countrysides, and other settlements require a different approach than the standard, theory-based forms put forth by people like the CNU. A good planner will not try to rigidly impose a certain model on all situations, but rather, tailor a response to each individual place. That may mean pulling a little from the New Urbanism, a little from traditional suburban design, and a smattering of everything in-between.

    Transit? Not in a rural community of 15,000. Walkability? So what, when you work in the community fifteen miles east of here and your wife works fifteen miles to the west? Walkability may mean sidewalks so that you can go for a stroll after dinner.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian H's avatar
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    I have to think there is a need for two densities. Cities should be high density and suburbs to be low density. This will stop the said county (or equivalent) from becoming just one giant medium density sprawling house farm.
    "Those who plan do better than those who do not plan, even though they rarely stick to their plan." - Winston Churchill

  9. #9
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Smart Growth theory, in the short term, will be difficult to implement because of the present interia from all the pre-existing development in the US. It will be hard to retrofit for increasing density.

    The most difficult aspect of implementing more smart growth policies will be overcoming the social interia. The beliefs and wants of the people will need to change. Once that happens, the built environment will be easy to deal with.

    I know that everyone has probably already heard the above screed many, many times before, but it's the truth. I still need more experience.

    One thing I do know is that having to drive to do everything is wrong

    Myself: I will stop trying to convert the unwilling, and simply try make my immeadiate surroundings a better place, as subjective as that may be.

  10. #10
    I think that Cardinal hit on the major problem with Smart Growth; people mistakenly believe that Smart Growth equals small lots, new urbanist designs, and multiple transit options. Opponents of smart growth will criticize the movement saying that planners want everyone to live on postage stamp sized lot in an urban looking setting. Smart growth supporters will rip any developer who wants to build a suburban-style subdivision, saying that it is not smart growth. You can have a subdivision with larger lots and it could be “smart growth” if you have planned for facilities in the area, incorporated bike trails, encouraged a conservation subdivision, etc. If you approved the development of a subdivision as the result of the transfer of development rights (TDR) in another environmentally sensitive area, that could also be considered smart growth. If you allow for the development of a big box store, but work with the developers to install sidewalks and pedestrian connections to neighborhoods, stormwater facilities, extensive streetscaping, and high quality design, I would even consider that smart growth.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Originally posted by Repo Man
    I think that Cardinal hit on the major problem with Smart Growth; people mistakenly believe that Smart Growth equals small lots, new urbanist designs, and multiple transit options. Opponents of smart growth will criticize the movement saying that planners want everyone to live on postage stamp in an urban looking setting. Smart growth supporters will rip any developer who wants to build a suburban-style subdivision, saying that it is not smart growth. You can have a subdivision with larger lots and it could be “smart growth” if you have planned for facilities in the area, incorporated bike trails, encouraged a conservation subdivision, etc. If you approved the development of a subdivision as the result of the transfer of development rights (TDR) in another environmentally sensitive area, that could also be considered smart growth. If you allow for the development of a big box store, but work with the developers to install sidewalks and pedestrian connections to neighborhoods, stormwater facilities, extensive streetscaping, and high quality design, I would even consider that smart growth.
    You sure you dont want to apply for that vacant job south of your old boss?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Originally posted by Repo Man
    I think that Cardinal hit on the major problem with Smart Growth; people mistakenly believe that Smart Growth equals small lots, new urbanist designs, and multiple transit options. Opponents of smart growth will criticize the movement saying that planners want everyone to live on postage stamp sized lot in an urban looking setting. Smart growth supporters will rip any developer who wants to build a suburban-style subdivision, saying that it is not smart growth. You can have a subdivision with larger lots and it could be “smart growth” if you have planned for facilities in the area, incorporated bike trails, encouraged a conservation subdivision, etc. If you approved the development of a subdivision as the result of the transfer of development rights (TDR) in another environmentally sensitive area, that could also be considered smart growth. If you allow for the development of a big box store, but work with the developers to install sidewalks and pedestrian connections to neighborhoods, stormwater facilities, extensive streetscaping, and high quality design, I would even consider that smart growth.
    Amen.

  13. #13
    Member Wulf9's avatar
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    Originally posted by Cardinal
    I am going to disagree with you. Smart Growth is not only building the next Kentlands or Seaside. There is a place for single-family homes on decently-sized lots. A good neighborhood has a mix of densities, including multi-family buildings and detached homes. These do not all need to be crowded upon each other. Walkability, mixed uses, land conservation, and other Smart Growth goals can be achieved with lots such as those described above.

    Transit? Not in a rural community of 15,000. Walkability? So what, when you work in the community fifteen miles east of here and your wife works fifteen miles to the west? Walkability may mean sidewalks so that you can go for a stroll after dinner.
    My point was that building the subdivisions we have been building over the past 60 years is just building subdivisions -- and we should not call it something else.

    Expanding that idea to mix of densities in a neighborhood, multi family, mixed use, etc. is a different model and could be "smart growth" if those are more than a token part of the land use in the community.

    We have decent transit (one bus/one driver) in a town of 7,500 for in-town use and connections by County transit to neighboring cities. It can work in small towns.

  14. #14
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Originally posted by Repo Man
    If you allow for the development of a big box store, but work with the developers to install sidewalks and pedestrian connections to neighborhoods, stormwater facilities, extensive streetscaping, and high quality design, I would even consider that smart growth.
    I thought that was called planning.

    (sorry for the sarcasm)

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Originally posted by mendelman
    I thought that was called planning.

    (sorry for the sarcasm)
    You must have the luxury of having all planners on your board or council. Some day when you get a real planning job, and your board is full of farmers, anti-government types, and high school educated master plumbers, maybe you'll understand the challenges faced by planners.

  16. #16
    I agree with chet. After listening to Plan Commission members say things like "I don't see what the big deal is if we let them have whatever sign they want." or "We shouldn't force them do do something that they don't want, they know how to run their own business" or "If I want sidwalks, I would move into the CIty" some Planners consider it a miracle when they get any elements of so-called smart growth incorporated in proposals.
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

    - Homer Simpson

  17. #17
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Originally posted by jordanb
    A lot of "Smart growth" practices in many counties mandate massive (5+ acre) lots outside the cities. The result is super-sprawl, but it looks rural and dosen't impact county services, plus the lots are owned by more wealthy people than traditional middle-class sprawl so people in the county are happy.
    Around these parts, there is a 30 mile (45 kilometer) long string of large villages and incorporated cities dominated by "gentleman's country estates" - extremely high-end residential development on 10+ acre lots. I-90 in Lake County and I-271 in Cuyahoga County forms a well-defined boundary between typical late-20th century suburban development to the north, and the estate development to the south and east.

    This is typical estate development in east suburban Cleveland.



    (I LOVE our GIS ... Pictometry rules!)

    The residents of these areas can afford to pay for their sprawl; for the disproportionately large amount of roads and utiliy lines needed to serve relatively few people. It creates a buffer between higher density development and outlying agricultural land; there's almost no leapfrog development over the estates. Still, though, I think it's diverted development to the northeast. Cleveland's suburbs extend about 40 miles (60 kilometers) east along the Lake Erie Shore. Would the sprawl extend that far if the estates weren't there?
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Originally posted by Dan
    Would the sprawl extend that far if the estates weren't there?
    Lake Erie blocking all northern development probably diverts more development than these estate zones IMHO. This is an issue faced in all coastal areas.

  19. #19
    I just find it wonderful that the rich can afford roads and utility extensions 60km from the CBD and we in the inner-city can't afford to build a freaking park!
    On pitching to Stan Musial:
    "Once he timed your fastball, your infielders were in jeopardy."
    Warren Spahn

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Originally posted by Gedunker
    I just find it wonderful that the rich can afford roads and utility extensions 60km from the CBD and we in the inner-city can't afford to build a freaking park!
    Ah my proletariat, we have over educated you! The revolution must be nigh.

  21. #21
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    Interesting discussion! Especially the comments about there being other types of Smart Growth besides New Urbanism. Does anyone know of any good books that address the other types of city form (villages, hamlets, countrysides, etc.)?

    Back on topic:
    Somewhat larger lots can still be walkable. You just have to pay attention to the entire design. Block lengths, street widths, sidewalks, interesting landscaping, etc. all play a role in making a development walkable. Personally, I don't like the 15,000sf lots, but I think larger lots and smart growth can coexist in the right context. I like seeing a mix of lot sizes in a development since that usually leads to a mix of housing prices and a mix of income.

    In your case, it sounds more like developers simply renamed their development style, but it's really same ol' same ol'. What the rest of the development like around Richmond? Do you have a bunch of post WW2 suburban development or is it older stuff on smaller (possibly overbuilt) lots? If stormwater runoff was the cause for the increase maybe they should look at increasing impervious cover requirements. Living here in central Texas I'm certainly familiar with the effects of impervious cover on flash flooding.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  22. #22
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Slightly OT: "high density" estate development east of Cleveland.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Originally posted by Dan
    Slightly OT: "high density" estate development east of Cleveland.
    I'll look that place up when I start my new career as Cabana Boy

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