Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Zoning Hearings: As Civil as Cats vs. Dogs

Have you ever been to a planning/zoning meeting and wondered if someone could portray the things people say via cats?

A blogger in Austin did just that with "9 Things People Always Say at Zoning Hearings, Illustrated by Cats". (thanks to The Direct Transfer for featuring this!)

I'm working on a rezoning project right now that involves quite a few of these including:

1. I’M NOT OPPOSED TO ALL DEVELOPMENT.  JUST THIS DEVELOPMENT.

I'm trying to help an infill developer build 4 townhouses and 1 single-family detached house on two separate corner lots.  That's five housing units that are walking distance to a historic downtown.  Nevermind the 50 and 100-unit subdivisions that are regularly gobbling up nearby countryside.

3. REALITY IS, EVERYBODY DRIVES A CAR.

If these houses get "parked", the townhouses will each have a 2-car garage (2 cars x 4 units = 8 cars), plus a rear row of 4 guest parking spaces, so 12 cars in total.  And the single-family house on the opposite corner would have a 2-car garage, so a whopping 14 cars in total added to an existing city block.  Yes, that's 14 more vehicles moving about, but it's so much more than that:  it's new residents that can support downtown businesses and not necessarily have to drive for every trip they make.

4. THESE GREEDY DEVELOPERS ONLY THINK ABOUT PROFITS

This project's zoning currently only allows one minimum 10,000 SF lot - the site is 14,000 SF, which is a huge lot for being less than a 5 min. walk to a historic downtown.  A third-party property appraisal noted that the highest and best use of the property would be subdividing it for smaller single-family detached houses or townhouses, especially given the existing $16,000 worth of water/sewer taps on-site (previous commercial building site).

Neighbors are insistent on "one lot, one house", but the market will simply not support that at this time.  The real question for neighbors is, "How long can you tolerate this being a vacant, City-owned and non-tax generating lot?"  That's a question for City Council too.

7. I’M 5TH GENERATION! MY GREAT GREAT GRANDFATHER MOVED HERE BEFORE THIS WAS EVEN ON THE MAP!

"If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less."  It's a harsh truth, but it's a truth nonetheless.  If the immediate neighborhood's going to remain viable and relevant to future generations (i.e. your Gen X and Millennial kids, plus you the Boomers as you retire/downsize), it's got to evolve with a range of housing options, which comes to the next point.

9. THIS HOUSING IS TOO SMALL FOR ME!

If you've only ever lived in a single-family detached (i.e. freestanding) house, that may very well be your worldview on housing.  And that's frankly what most Americans have been exposed to since World War II - a limited range of housing, usually in a spectrum of: grow up in single-family house, go off to college for a dorm or apartment, graduate from college and live in an apartment or rental house (uh oh, we'll get to that in minute), and buy your first house (Congrats, now you're a certified and acceptable adult!).

This current project also has nearby residents asking if new housing can be restricted to owner-occupied vs. rental housing.  Sorry folks, planning authority only regulates use, and in a lesser manner, form.  Housing tenure (i.e. ownership vs. rental) cannot and should not be regulated by government - it's a decision for one of two parties to make: 1) the developer can place Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CCRs) on the property; 2) a future Homeowner's Association (HOA) can make the call on owner-occupied vs. rental.

I had a planning grad school professor that swore by Barriers to Infill Development, and I'm now living his research.  Dr. Ferris, I'll throw my wallet on a table and see if that sways anyone, neighbor or City Council Member, to support the project.