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Commission initiates code amendment for small lot amnesty

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Modifications to the city’s small lot amnesty policy continue to move forward, with a code amendment now on the horizon.


The Planning Commission voted unanimously at its last meeting to initiate the code amendment, which will clarify that the small lot amnesty infill tool is intended to allow new development or redevelopment of an existing structure. It would clarify that the amnesty is not intended to facilitate tearing down houses built across several small lots in order to build on each of those lots instead.


“Then you are creating the situation that needs amnesty,” said Senior Planner Greg Dutton. “The intent is for existing small lots that either have a small structure that needs to be repaired or no structure at all… for those lots to take advantage of small lot amnesty.”


Small lot amnesty is a tool that neighborhoods have the option of adopting into their neighborhood plans. Dutton told the board that of the neighborhoods in the city’s urban core that have neighborhood plans, about half have adopted the amnesty. He estimated that impacted about 3,000 lots. It’s a way that neighborhoods can allow development on very small lots.


“I am concerned,” said Chair Dave Anderson. “As we recommended to reduce occupancy limits, I think along with that we should be looking for opportunities to increase smaller housing that might be more affordable. This is one mechanism to do it… I am not interested in scrapping perfectly good houses, but if there is a house that’s at the end of its life, and we can do something like this, I think that potentially makes a lot of sense.”


Commissioner Danette Chimenti said that she didn’t disagree. She explained that some neighborhood planning areas, including her own, shied away from adopting the tool in their plans “precisely because we were afraid of the tear-downs.”


“What I think we are trying to prevent is bait and switch,” said Chimenti, who explained that neighborhoods who adopted the tool thought they were getting an easy way to encourage development on small lots, but got a way to allow tear-downs and construction of multiple houses.


“I think it’s kind of unfair to the neighborhoods who thought they were getting one thing, and it ends up that they are getting something different,” said Chimenti. “The community needs to be very aware and they need to not be bamboozled into getting something. I think that’s what this is correcting.”


Commissioner Stephen Oliver said that he was also supportive of the code amendment initiation, as well as the “critical” discussion that will surround it.


“This has an interesting dynamic to it. Because of the time period that we’re in, the infill pressures that we have, the CodeNEXT (new Land Development Code) things that may be coming forward… We’ve got development pressures continuously to tear things down and to build bigger –or even smaller,” said Oliver.


Oliver stressed the importance of the discussion to come, as did Chimenti, with both saying there is a need for a transparent, clear discussion about how the city can go about encouraging good infill on small lots.

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