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Planning Commissioners blast unequal treatment of renters

Friday, June 11, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

A rezoning case at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting sparked a conversation among commissioners over the disparate treatment between renters and single-family homeowners in the rezoning process. 

A 330-unit multifamily project with 33 income restricted units is slated for a long, narrow, 4-acre lot at 7113 Burnet Road that abuts several single-family homes. The developer of the project requests Multifamily Residence-Highest Density (MF-6) zoning. Various types of commercial zoning are currently in place on different parts of the lot. 

The developer has made concessions to neighbors who are against the project. Both parties have agreed to a conditional overlay that provides 20 feet between the proposed building and the adjacent homes. A restrictive covenant limits the building’s height to 75 feet and requires the developer to plant mature trees to screen the building, among other provisions. Overall, the developers’ commitments go above and beyond the code-mandated compatibility standards.   

One clause in the proposed restrictive covenant drew the ire of some commissioners: The units near single-family homes, at the request of neighbors, cannot have full balconies, only six-inch-deep Juliet balconies.

“Please explain to me, why do you need that request?” Commissioner Awais Azhar asked Brad Russell, a neighbor. Russell explained that full balconies would encroach on the neighbors’ privacy. “If they’re on a second story, they can look into all the homes that are surrounding, and the ability to be out there on a balcony for longer periods of time – there’s more impact on our privacy.” Russell said he was also concerned about noisy gatherings on balconies. 

Azhar then brought in the perspective of a future renter: “Do you think that you could potentially inconvenience them from using your yard at late hours?” Russell said he didn’t understand. “I’m not sure how if I’m hanging out in my backyard that would inconvenience someone on a second story or a third story.” Azhar also noted that the maximum height of the apartments adjacent to single-family homes would be 30 feet – about the same as a single family home.

Azhar and Commissioner Joao Paulo Connolly took the opportunity to condemn what they saw as the unequal treatment of renters vs. homeowners.

“I just think it’s worth stating for the record that this is the perfect example of how renters in this city are treated as second-class citizens. So often in our decisions, quality of life matters to homeowners and single-family homes, but quality of life does not matter to renters,” Connolly said. Let the people in those apartments know that their balconies were robbed by their neighbors in their single-family homes,” he added. 

“It is truly appalling to me that is something that the neighborhood requested,” Azhar said. “It is appalling to me that the applicant agreed to that. And I really hope that that is not a conversation we have again on this dais in this commission or anywhere in the city.”

Eight commissioners, including Azhar and Connolly, voted to recommend the requested MF-6 zoning, and three abstained. City Council was set to vote on the case at yesterday’s meeting, but the case was postponed until July 29 at the request of neighbors. 

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