Friday, February 5, 2021

Expansion of Proposed R4 Live-Work Zoning Tucked into New Draft: A Footnote

The summary map on the latest Our Salem draft was a little confusing with all the yellow. The color really turned out to signify something a little different and somewhat more interesting.

More R4 live-work proposed

It seems that the main change signified by the yellow expanse is not really about single detached housing, but is expansion of the new proposed R4 designation. By subsuming it under "single family" in yellow on the summary map, this change was largely concealed, and I drew an errant inference from the yellow, not grasping that it signified the R4.

Map changes summary Feb 2021
More new single family zones in yellow

This post is a footnote to that first impression on the revised draft plan. This is about the proposed expansion of that R4, about the insufficiency of the draft plan still even with that expansion, and about the overly complicated, even baffling, design of our zoning scheme.

Kingwood in West Salem really illustrates this. Look at all the yellow for "single family residential."

Yellow for "single family residential"?

The yellow is in fact the new R4

But it's actually an expansion of the proposed R4 zoning.

R4 allows "up to four dwelling units"

If smallplexes will already be allowed in a widespread way, is this a meaningful change? Middle housing forms are a great match for this area, so close to downtown and with a "main street" in Edgewater. 

There are at least two Overlay Zones also!

It's also already in a "Compact Development Overlay Zone," which allows triplexes. So bumping that to fourplexes isn't much change.

Maybe we should bump it up one whole level.

More generally, on maps the yellow "single family" zoning is increasingly misleading and unhelpful. We should just ditch that. Calling R4 "single family" obfuscates and we should want greater clarity in our descriptions. R4 is a smallplex designation, and instead of any "single family" zoning, we should have new varieties of smallplex. We have RM1, RM2, RH. Maybe what we really need is an broadening of RM1, or some subvarieties of RM1, and consider making it much more widespread for by-right redevelopment.

Instead of expanding "single family" concepts, we should expand middle housing concepts and ditch the antiquated notion of "family" for more flexible notions of "household" or something. (See "Living Together: It’s Time for Zoning Codes to Stop Regulating Family Type" for a discussion of this.)

Even better, since our zoning scheme is also Byzantine and hard to grasp without specialist knowledge, we should consider simplifying it, even moving to a form-based code that looks primarily at building form rather than activity or use inside. Multiplying subtypes and overlay zones is just adding epicycles!

Neighborhood Hubs dotted perhaps too sparsely

Additionally, on neighborhood hubs we should also just make that a by-right move on any residential property. Most lots will never be developed that way, but by making it more generally available, we would allow the market to decide where they will best fit. The current proposals make some sense, dotted throughout neighborhoods, but it's possible that by being so restricted to the dots we will have left viable sites on the table and desiginated some in fact non-viable sites.

At the moment it still seems very reasonable to restrict large scale commercial and industrial and multi-family development to certain sites, but less reasonable to restrict by-right small scale development for neighborhood-scale commercial, smallplexes, and middle housing. We should more flexible and permissive on these smaller intensifications in development - what the Strong Towns calls the "next increment." 

Without wider scale moves, it does not seem possible this set of changes will get us to a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas pollution by 2035.

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