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Council adopts new regulations for development of flag lots

Friday, June 1, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

After years of debate, City Council has taken action to more closely regulate flag lots.


On a 5-2 vote, Council last week adopted the Planning Commission’s recommendations for regulations on the lots. Council Member Chris Riley and Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole voted no, citing a concern about housing affordability.


The new ordinance would allow a developer to seek approval from the director of the Planning and Development Review Department for flag lots on newly platted land. However, in the case of re-subdivided lots, a flag lot would require a variance through the Planning Commission.


In its recommendations, staff argued against requiring a variance for the re-subdivision, saying that it would deter development and increase costs.


“We would estimate that the variance process would add at a minimum a month,” said George Zapalac, the development services manager of the Planning and Development Review Department. “I think the time is one factor, but the uncertainty that is created whenever a variance is required is also a factor in the developer’s mind.”


Zapalac explained that approval by the director was a much less formal process, and that the new variance-seeking process would require a greater investment by developers and more complete plans, which would likely increase the cost of building on such a lot.


Riley expressed concern over an affordability impact statement, which showed increased development cost should flag lots require a variance.


“I just want to stress that one month of extra effort . . .  is a reasonable tradeoff in order to ensure compatability in our neighborhoods,” said Council Member Laura Morrison.


The new ordinance sends single-family or duplex subdivisions on previously-platted land to the Planning Commission. Previously, the lots did require a variance, but it was one that was granted by the Director of Planning and Development Review.


“It becomes, instead of the director’s variance, it becomes a variance that the Planning Commission can grant… They have discretion, they can actually look at the case and see whether or not serious incompatibilities are going to arise from that,” said Morrison. “I think that this is a smart way to go. It allows our commissions to actually do their job and have the discretion. It allows for a public process for this, so that the neighbors can come in and talk about their sense of whether it is compatible or not.”


Because the new regulations require a variance, they also allow neighbors to submit a valid petition in the case that they oppose the flag lot.


The ordinance sets the minimum width of flag lots at 20 feet unless two or more flag lots share a common driveway, there is extra room for utility installation, or there is access via an alternative route. In these cases, the minimum lot width is 15 feet.


Additionally, subdivisions are required to submit a driveway and utility plan for review and approval.


City Council approved the recommendation with one change, substituting the word “shall” for “can” in the section of the ordinance which addresses approval of the variance by the commission. The change was an attempt to speed up the process, and limit unnecessary time spent getting variances approved that met criteria for flag lots.


Under the new rules, the commission “shall” approve the re-subdivision of land into flag lots if developers demonstrate compatibility, enhance environmental and tree protection, emergency access, and demonstrated room for utilities. Applicants are also required to submit copies of any private deed restrictions for “informational purposes.”

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