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City staff presents land use option to preserve open space

Tuesday, May 4, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

The city is moving closer to creating a new residential use that will allow for more flexibility when building single-family houses on environmentally sensitive land. The new use, should it gain Council approval, would be the result of a year-and-a-half-long process initiated by Council Member Laura Morrison last January.


The potential new use, called Conservation Single Family Residential (CSFR), would be allowed in Single Family Residence Large Lot (SF-1) zoned districts within the Drinking Water Protection Zone. It would allow for the preservation of open space by allowing detached single-family housing on smaller individual lots, with the remainder of the site being held as commonly owned open space.


Under SF-1 zoning, the minimum allowable density is one unit per 10,000 square feet. In a zoning case brought before Council in January 2009, a property owner in Oak Hill wanted to build higher-density single-family tracts in a SF-1 zone and leave the rest of the property undeveloped in the hopes of protecting environmentally sensitive land over the Edwards Aquifer. City code doesn’t allow the clustering of smaller units in SF-1, however, so the owner’s only option was to seek upzoning of the area to SF-6, which has minimum density requirements of one lot per 5,750 square feet. In other words, the area would have been rezoned to accommodate more urban single-family residences, like condominiums, not just large-tract single-family homes.


At that meeting, Council passed a resolution to have staff find a compromise that would allow developers to cluster smaller homes on one lot in SF-1 zones (yet still at the same proportion, roughly 4.3 units per acre). Yesterday, representatives from the Planning and Development Review Department brought their recommendation before the Comprehensive Planning and Transportation Committee.


According to Senior Planner Robert Heil, CSFR use would involve smaller, clustered residential lots in SF-1 zoned areas. So instead of, say, four 10,000 square-foot units on a 40,000-square-foot site (as would be demanded by SF-1), developers could cluster four 3,600-square-foot units on the same site and leave the remainder of the tract undeveloped as commonly owned space. The clustering of lots, Heil said, “could provide decreased utility costs and decreased landscape costs,” and the preservation of open space and site-development flexibility would allow developers to “protect critical environmental features, like a stream bank or a cave or a significant group of trees.”


Also, the use change would decrease landscaped areas in the Drinking Water Protection Zone, thereby decreasing pesticide and fertilizer run-off.


Should this code change win Council approval, the CSFR option would be available in any SF-1 zoning area in the Drinking Water Protection Zone. “We’re hoping that by creating a new use and not a new zoning district,” Heil said, “if someone wanted to proceed with this conservation option, they could as a matter of right. They would not have to come before Council to request a zoning change.”


Heil told In Fact Daily he believes the CSFR use is a good compromise that takes into account both the desires of landowners who want to develop their land in an environmentally sensitive manner and neighborhoods that worry about the potential dangers of upzoning residential areas.


“People are worried about seeing SF-6 on the map, even with the conditional overlay limiting the density to SF-1 standards, because that creates the impression that higher-density single family is now appropriate,” he said. “This is a way to achieve those same goals of site-development flexibility and environmental protection without having to use upzoning and adjusting it with a conditional overlay.”


City staff is scheduled to take the proposal before the Planning Commission at the end of May, followed by a public hearing at City Council June 10.

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