City Council Passes House Size Limits by 1 vote
As most of you are aware, the city council passed the house size limit regulations on third reading late Tuesday evening (6 October 2009). The regulations were essentially unchanged from the 17 September meetings–a 35% building coverage ratio, a .5 floor area ratio, 45-degree side yard bulk plane standards, wall articulation standards and a host of other revisions to the code. They will take effect on 4 January 2010, after a 90-day implementation period has passed. To be considered under the existing rules, a building permit needs to be considered complete by the City prior to that date.
We still see several difficulties with the regulations, including:
- The building coverage ratio still makes no sense, particularly for majority of the city’s neighborhoods which do not have alleys. It will encourage popping up rather than bumping out, and the increased building heights will actually work against several of council’s goals (perceived mass/or bulk, reducing the height of tall “looming” walls, the loss of rear-yard privacy, and the impact on views). A better regulation would have focused on limiting the amount of second story coverage.
- For single-story ranch homes, the building coverage of 35% is equivalent to the .35 FAR that was floated by council as an interim measure–and was roundly rejected by the public. So after 2 years of debate, ranch home owners are in only a marginally different boat than they were when this process started.
- There remain substantial issues with sloped lots, including counting toward the FAR significant portions of basements with no exterior access due to the fact that a lot slopes from side to side.
- There are similar problems resulting from how the bulk plane standard interacts with sloped lots, particularly in that they work to push the building upslope by measuring the building envelope from ground level at the side property lines, rather than averaging their elevations together. Buildings that are off-center on their lots and lean upslope will be perceived as taller and more massive due to being situated higher on the hill.
- The interactions between the existing solar plane standard and the bulk plane standard on sloped lots have still not been adequately studied. In many cases, these standards will interact with slope to produce a building envelope that forces homes to be off-center on their lots, with second stories and above crammed into a narrow corner nearer to one of property lines than the other. Not building the upper floors centered on the lot could result in a loss of privacy for the neighbors and contribute to their sense of looming walls.
- Significant increases in both the document preparation costs and permit fee for homeowners preparing even modest additions.
As Macon Cowles noted, FairFAR did not attend the public hearing at the third reading to reiterate the same objections we have been making for months. However, he was wrong to assume that our absence meant that we felt the “compromise” regulations were fair or even adequate. Rather than seeing little to nothing change again at a public hearing, we have chosen to focus our time and energy on making endorsements in the upcoming City Council Elections.