Sunday, January 24, 2016

Two Land Use Hearings Show Disproportion in Zoning and Code

On Tuesday and Wednesday a couple of matters before the Planning Commission and Hearings Officer suggest ways our zoning and hearings code is out of whack. A simple count of pages in the Staff Reports shows the problem in a nutshell: 53pp for a garage replacement on an existing four-plex, 20pp for a brand new 52-unit apartment/commercial mixed-use project.

New garage proposed for four-plex here - via google
If we want the kind of gentle density increases that come from "the missing middle," this is entirely the wrong way to make it happen. (On the other hand, another way to read it is that our exlusionary zoning is working as intended, making things like gentle density increase and the garage replacement impossible or a real pain in the butt.)

On Tuesday for a full Public Hearing at the Planning Commission is the garage replacement.

Existing garage (top) and proposed new garage (bottom)
(notes in red added)
Formally the thing is
A request for an adjustment to increase the height of an new accessory building, reduce the setback along the north property line, waive the requirement for the 6-foot sight obscuring fence along the south property line, and decrease the vision clearance triangle requirement.

[Consquently it is] a consolidated application for a Class 3 Design Review for an apartment complex, Class 3 Site Plan Review to construct a new three car garage with a personal studio and Class 2 Adjustment to increase the...height...from 15 to 19.5 feet, reduce the [north] setback...from 10 feet to 5 feet, waive the requirement for a 6-foot...fence...[,and] decrease the vision clearance triangle...
This is on an alley - exactly where we want car storage, to liberate the streets for higher uses! - hardly visible from the street and across from the back end of a convenience store. It seems scarcely conceivable that something like this should require a full public hearing! It's not disruptive at all. The land is also zoned RM2 for multi-family dwellings, and next door on the corner is a courtyard multi-plex. On a block whose other side fronts Broadway, it seems reasonable to have some upzoning here. Nothing here seems inconsistent with the lot being transitional property between the older streetcar corridor of Broadway and the interior of the Grant neighborhood.

Pockets of RM2 zoning line the Grant Neighborhood
I mean, I get that maybe you want some control against a neighbor suddenly building a ten-story "garage" on their own - but holy smokes. This is a legit garage replacement, and it seems like it ought to be a simple administrative approval process and not require the full-blown hearings process. The regulatory environment seems disproportionate to the impact of the proposed outcome.

Maybe you know a reason the full public process needs to be applied here, but on the surface this looks like an obvious example of excessive red tape that works contrary to our policy goals.

At the Hearings Officer on Wednesday, at the same time as the Bed and Breakfast proposed for Chemeketa and 18th, is an interesting application for a mixed-use development. It's a much more complicated thing and has much greater impacts on the neighborhood. But you wouldn't know it by the Staff Report.

The application is for
A Conditional Use Permit for development of a 61,500 square foot mixed use building with approximately 16,500 square feet of commercial use and 52 residential dwellings...
This is at 5775 Commercial St SE, basically the corner of Wiltsey and Commercial.

Right now the area is stroadiriffic, and the lot is sandwiched between fast food and storage units. But there is a Safeway not far away on Mildrid/Fabry, and if you squint you can see how the area could be occasionally walkable for some errands. The lot in question, however, is set back behind parking lots, and so it doesn't really greet the sidewalk.

Interestingly, it doesn't look like the overlay zone here is structured to incent mixed-use development, so this may be solely the initiative of the developer.

Something like this won't revolutionize the corridor, but it could be an incremental move towards something better. (It is interesting also that the developer here is the same as on May's Landing, so there will be an opportunity for a compare-and-contrast game.)

So this could be something to watch! Later there will be a plan review. At present there are no elevations or any real indications of design, so there's not much to say on that front.

Revealingly, the Staff Report is only 20pp, and it seems like this is regarded as a straight-forward, unproblematic application.

And this is in striking contrast to the rigmarole around the garage replacement. (The B and B conversion on a parcel zoned for "residential duplex" might be another instance of too much red tape.)

Together I think these show the symptoms of an unbalanced system that fails to get us to our policy goals for a more lively and prosperous city.

1 comment:

Sarah Owens said...

"The rigmarole around the garage replacement" as a one of the "symptoms of an unbalanced system that fails to get us to our policy goals for a more lively and prosperous city."

Probably why EcoNorthwest recommended (considering) doing away with much of the rigamarole in the Housing Needs Analysis.