Tuesday, March 25, 2008

zoning ordinance public hearing

In case anyone is interested in the text of my comments tonight against the proposed ordinance, here is the speach. I'm sure I mangled a few bits and pieces. I really hate reading a speach, but it was important that I got out everything I wanted in 5 minutes.

Mayor Tomzak, city council, members of the public, I am here tonight to speak about the city zoning ordinance revision for residential homes.

Let me start off with the city’s own analysis. I take offense to the very first paragraph, which I believe sent staff down an unwise path. It states: In 1950 home sizes averaged 983 sq ft, compared to roughly 2200sq ft in yr 2000. Back in 1950, that was probably the largest size home most families could afford. This was a time when one parent was the wage earner, when salaries were a fraction of today, and when many single people couldn’t afford their own home. Today, homeowners have a much more diverse background, with more revenue sources, and with expectations of modern conveniences unavailable in 1950. Today modern homes are built to a safety code and efficiency standards that were unheard of back then. So to compare today’s market to the one in 1950 is simply a cleaver bit of spin.

Onto the specifics, I believe that in all successful negotiations, a little give and take is necessary. Unfortunately, here, the city has given nothing, and instead is proposing to take & take.

This ordinance takes away the ability to expand out. At the same time it’s taking away the alternative to build up.

Secondly, the city staff is proposing taking more in taxes this year, while also proposing taking away these zoning rights. What happens next year when the appraisers calculate the land only portion of our appraisals? I will argue that they need to lower the land value, simply because next year I cannot built the same home I can build today, and with less than a years sales data, they will have a hard time arguing against that justification.

Skipped this paragraph for time: Finally, the KISS principal, you know, Keep-It-Simple, has not been applied here. The old ordinance had alternative setbacks based on neighbors to the left and right. The new one has a vague reference to facing blockface. What happens when across the street is a different zoning – it doesn’t say? How about where it specifically states that coverage restrictions don’t apply to the front porch, yet how does that apply to homes like those on Lafayette or maybe Winchester? Homes where the 1st floor porch is open, but the second floor overhangs the porch. If this counts against lot coverage, then forget seeing any new homes with this beautiful architectural style because once you penalize someone for it, they will surely finish the porch area entirely.

I guess I just don’t see how this aids in maintaining “Character”. I also don’t see how the city can waste so much time and money on attempting to fix something people find visually offensive. Has the city proven any harm has come to this group? If so, why didn’t they use the existing laws for overlay districts to resolve their issues? Instead, I have written to council and posted on my website the social and economic consequences of this ordinance. Here are dozen groups that could show economic or other harm from the new ordinance:
- expanding families
- lower income owners with limited legal resources
- owners of small lots
- owners of 40.5’ lots
- contractors who will loose work
- their employees who will loose hours of labor
- investors
- new owners wanting their dream home
- Unfair to those responsible for processing special use permits
- Unfair to resident who believes this is would have prevented any large home examples
- Unfair to people who enjoy looking at revitalized neighborhoods
- Most importantly it’s unfair to taxpayers

Skipped this paragraph: Council has promoted commercial diversity, how about applying those same diversity standards to residential outside the historic district?

Looking at the city's own examples, 2 houses just need to lower the average roof height 2 feet, one house needs to remove 170sq ft. Lets look specifically at the house on Payne St that many people bring up in this discussion. This change will mean they take out the 1st level garage, probably replacing it with a detached 2 car garage, which doesn't count against lot coverage, resulting in more runoff, which causes harm to the surrounding area. Is that what we want?

I also did my own research, using nearby small cities that people can relate to. Of Lynchburg, Roanoke and the very historic Charlottesville, only one dictates lot coverage, and it is much more than 30 or 40%. All three of these cities continue to use the industry standard of 35’ height.

So I’m asking for my incentive package, and it doesn’t cost the city a thing, simply leave my zoning alone, and allow me to continue to hold the same rights tomorrow that I did today.

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