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Developing Small Single-Family Lots

We are proposing recommendations for changes to new development on small, single-family lots.
We are proposing recommendations for development on small, single-family lots to preserve the character of the neighborhoods.

Background

Why did the City put interim controls in place?
Interim controls are regulations that the City can put in place immediately upon City Council adoption and the Mayor’s signature. These controls are intended to apply for no longer than one year. The City is using the interim period to study the issue further and consider adoption of permanent regulations. The interim controls protect neighborhoods in the intervening period while the permanent regulations are under consideration.

The interim controls are in response to several houses that have been built in recent years on small lots. Many neighbors and community organizations have expressed concerns to us, the Mayor, and City Council. We reviewed the Land Use Code provisions governing undersized lots and minimum lot area exceptions. We determined that development approved under our current standards is sometimes out of character with surrounding conditions and inconsistent with the policy intent of allowing infill development on undersized lots.

What is the policy intent of allowing infill development on historic lots?
The policy behind infill development (the construction of houses on individual lots in established neighborhoods) is to allow for reasonable construction on lots that were created before modern requirements, such as minimum lots sizes, were put in place. The main ideas are to: protect a family’s past property investments; promote opportunities for people to find housing opportunities in the city; and promote the construction of houses compatible with existing neighborhoods.

What do the interim controls do?
The interim measures put controls in place to promote housing construction in established neighborhoods that is more in keeping with our policy intent:

  • Only apply the lot area exception provided for lots of historic record to parcels with an area of at least 50 percent of the general minimum requirement for the zone
  • End the use of historic tax records to qualify for lot area exceptions
  • Continue to allow development of lots with an area of between 50 and 75 percent of the general minimum lot area of the zone (i.e. lots between 2,500 and 3,750 square feet in an SF 5000 zone) by allowing development on those lots to be built to a base height of 22 feet, as compared to the 30-foot limit that generally applies in Single Family zones

What is the issue with historic tax records?
Parcels that were historically held as separate tax parcels sometimes are not configured in a way that suggests they might be separately developed, or that lends them to separate development that is compatible with neighboring houses. Portions of platted lots were placed on separate ledger lines, regardless of this size, under the recordkeeping system in place before 1940. Some of these very small parcels were given separate tax parcel numbers when the new system was adopted. Also, when a portion of a property was sold from one abutting owner to another, in some cases that portion of a lot had a separate tax parcel number for years before being merged with the property it had joined.

The separate development of such lots does not appear to be justified based on the intent behind the exception made for historic lots to preserve the opportunity to develop, as these lots were originally meant to be developed. Benefits from these arcane tax record provisions benefit developers rather than the historic owners of the parcels.

Do the interim controls also affect the ability to make additions to or rebuild existing houses that are already on small lots?
The interim controls are not intended to limit the ability to make additions to existing houses, or rebuild them to the same configuration. This issue will be explored more thoroughly when permanent regulations are prepared.

What is the timeline for permanent regulations?
The legislation that put the interim controls in place includes a schedule that requires permanent regulations to be put in place by September of 2013.

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