Update on Small Lot Legislation

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I’m writing today with an update on the small lots legislation. The Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee voted out an amended version of the legislation at our last meeting (May 6), and I will explain some of the main provisions of the amended bill below.

The final bill will be in front of the Full Council for final action on Monday, May 19.

Striking a Balance

There is no question that some neighborhoods are experiencing unprecedented growth. Many of the rules that were created around growth and development happened under different market conditions, and it is time to revisit some of these rules.  In addition to neighbors concerned that seemingly unchecked development is detrimental to their neighborhood character, I have been hearing from those who want more housing options in the city, or homeowners who own property who would like to develop their lots. My main goal throughout this process is to strike a balance.

The proposed provisions, designed to help new single-family developments on under-sized lots fit into existing neighborhoods, is undeniably complex. It represents a compromise among deeply held values. I want to keep our neighborhoods unique and strong, while recognizing that growth and density can add value and vibrancy to a neighborhood.  I think this legislation provides us with a path forward to achieve both those goals. It would prevent the most egregious examples of unchecked development (the “alley skyscrapers”), while allowing property owners to reasonably develop their land in keeping with the scale on their block.

Here is an example of a small lot home that would no longer be allowed under the new legislation:

Small lot home not allowed under new rules

Legislation Details

The legislation closes exiting loopholes in the law, requires new developments to be in scale with the lots on their block, adds new development standards to lots with a buildable area less than 3200 square feet, and allows for remodels of existing homes with limitations.

  • Closing loopholes: The legislation prohibits new single family homes on lots less than 2500 square feet and stops the use of historic tax records and deeds to create new lots. It also prevents the use of “panhandle” or odd-shaped parcels to create a lotthe minimum lot size is calculated based on the largest rectangle on the lot and developers can no longer add a small panhandle behind the neighbor’s property to create a developable lot.
  • Requiring development in keeping with the neighborhood scale: The 75/80 rule requires that new development on undersized lots be at scale with other lots on the same block-face.  In a SF 5000 zone, lots between 3750-5000 square feet (75% of 5,000 SF) can only be developed if their size is equal to 80% of the average lot size on their block. The 100% rule requires that new lots above the minimum lot size (2500 square feet) and below the 75% threshold (3750 square feet in SF 5000) may only be created if their size is equal or greater than 100% of the average lot size on their block.  The City estimates there are 200-300 lots in the City that could be created under this rule.
  • Creating new development standards on small lots with a buildable area less than 3200 square feet: Lots with a buildable area less than 3200 square feet are limited to 22 feet plus five feet for a pitched roof. Developments on these lots will also have new design standards, including a structure depth requirement based on the width of the lot, and requirements related to the placement of windows to consider the interior privacy of neighboring houses. Any new development on a lot with a buildable area less than 3200 square feet will also become a “Type II” land use decision that requires notice to neighbors and an opportunity to appeal to the hearing examiner.  The Council also added language to explore options for providing notice to neighbors for lot boundary adjustments that would be adopted in a separate piece of legislation.
  • Remodeling existing homes: Home-owners may make additions to their existing homes that exceed the maximum height limit so long as their addition is limited to 1000 square feet, or the square footage of their first floor, whichever is greater.

Previous Amendments That Did Not Pass Committee

The following items were removed from the legislation at the last PLUS Committee meeting.

  • Removed proposal that abutting lots be combined – the original proposal required abutting undeveloped lots in common ownership to be developed together, as a single lot,  if their average lot size was less than 3200 square feet.  I supported removing this provision because it unfairly singled out homeowners with adjacent undeveloped lots.  If the same lots were next to each other, but under different ownership, they could be developed.  The other provisions in the legislation ensure that abutting lots can only be developed if they are also in scale with the lots on the rest of the block.
  • Removed proposal for modulation on the sides of houses – the city requires modulation, or change in façade, to provide visual relief and architectural interest in some low-rise and multi-family zones.  Modulation is not required in single family zones, and may be overly burdensome or inhibit good design in these areas.  Design standards related to structure depth and window placement were retained in the ordinance.

Amendments To Be Considered at Full Council Meeting on Monday

On Monday, Mike will propose one additional amendment to help ensure that homes are in scale with the neighborhood.

  • Façade-height requirement – in addition to the new height restrictions, this amendment would restrict the height of the façade, or the part of the house that is facing the street to the maximum allowed height (22 or 25 feet) from the finished grade (often the sidewalk or driveway) on lots less than 3200 square feet and lots with a block face of 30 feet or less.  This provision will help temper the scale of homes built on sloped lots or raised lots by limiting the façade height at street-level.

In addition, the Full Council will consider eliminating the 100% rule on Monday, allowing for only the 75/80 rule on new lots. If this amendment passes, undeveloped lots between 2500 and 3750 square feet can be developed only they were established in the public record prior to 1957.

Thanks for Your Input

I continue to hear from both neighbors who are concerned about the size and scale of new development in their community, and from the people who are moving into these new homes and the people who build them with concerns about new regulations.

I don’t believe all small lot development is inherently bad for a neighborhood. But I don’t believe that it should be allowed to happen without significant checks and balances. I believe that the new provisions the City Council is considering will help new single-family developments on under-sized lots fit into existing neighborhoods. This legislation has been the result of months of community input, and I will continue to remain available to listen to your concerns, as we work on this legislation, as well as further land use issues coming up.

Thank you for your continued engagement.