Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Does Out-Of-Scale equal "out of character"

Tonight I attended the Fredericksburg City Planning Commission meeting which voted to send an ordinance change to City Council related to residential zoning. I am going to try to get the latest edits to this ordinance, as several edits were made tonight which I do not have in this copy from last week. The biggest edition is measuring from the base flood elevation if the lot is in the 100yr zone.

Basically, the Planning Commission was addressing item #8 on their agenda "prohibiting new development (single family houses) that are out of character with existing neighborhood structures." I agree that what they ACTUALLY fixed was what was defined in a memorandum as "Out of Scale" houses.

Let me try to state what I believe the zoning does NOT do.
a) It does nothing to limit style of housing. I would argue style has as much if not more to do with character than size
b) It does not restrict any non-single family home built in that zoned area. This greatly affects the changes they have implemented for the C-T commercial transitional zone, where it is by-right to allow single family homes next to commercial (one example is a telecommunication building).
c) According to a survey done by the city, generally all homes fit within the boundaries set by the new ordinance. In the FLS article on 12/11, the home on the corner or William and College Ave. was identified as a structure that is out of character, it would probably still fit within the 27' tall and coverage limits.
d) It sets two limits on coverage, with a 40' wide lot being the dividing line. Would this mean a 39' wide lot is suddently more valuable (due to more future potential) than the 40.1' lot next door?
e) It puts subjective measure into code (78 sec II.1.3 "...have an adverse effect on the neighborhood")
f) Does not consider porches or decks, both of which effect water runoff and the ability for land mass to soak up excess rainwater during a storm. This is one of the only arguments I can come up with for limiting coverage.
g) Does not grandfather in any resident that has not already submitted a building plan

Here is what this ordinance does
1) Futher limits free market economics on many residentially zoned lots in the city
2) Creates extra burden on the taxpayer and property owner to obtain special use permits where they may not have been necessary before
3) Only marginally considers property value. There is the potential here for devaluing properties that are only slightly larger than 40'.
4) It limits a single family home to 27' in C-T whereas any other by-right structure can be 40'.
I have several questions.

Can I still built a porch under a cantilevered 2nd floor? If so, can I cantilever the entire upper floor so that the base of my house is only part of the overall area?

Can I build any style of structure as long as it fits into the mold of coverage and height?

Can I increase or decrease the pitch of my roof so that the average height between the eve and the peak is less than 27'? This is the code measures 27'. I have always like the idea of a monolythic dome (note the sarcasm here before anyone states I'm building a new home).

Is it fair to allow a 40' telecom building to dwarf a single family residence at 27' next door?

Tonight there was discussion of measuring homes in the 100 yr flood plane starting at the base flood elevation. Does that mean that if I want to add a few feet of margin to my design, that I have to take those feet out of the max 27' height.

As written, I cannot support this ordinance change. If you agree with me, please sign this petition ( I also ask that you email other city residents the link to get them to sign. The City Council has a working session next week with the Planning Commission to iron out some details. I ask them be very cautious on this one. The definition of downzoning is here, and I believe this would apply.

I took the time to lookup Charlottesville's, Lynchburg's and Roanoke's zoning laws, and they are nowhere near as restrictive as this proposal. I would consider these other localities to be in similar historic nature a Fredericksburg.

Charlottesville City Code (see chapter 34) check out Sec. 34-353. Dimensional requirements--By district. Wouldn't it be nice if all city code was documented this clearly.
Roanoke City Code (see chapter 36.2) their coverages go up to 50, 60 or 70%
Lynchburg City Code (see chapter 35.1)

If I am wrong on this, please by all means let me know how this specific change would impact any "large out of character" house that someone has disagreed with. I'll even look up the lot data if you have a specific question on an address.

I have seen a number of these large homes in the city, and I think many are quite beautiful. Some I would not have built for myself, but then part of being a city is recognizing the diversity that is around us. Please help me to show that we want to protect that diversity and sign up here.

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