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Planning Commission forms housing policy working groups

Thursday, July 14, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

Amid a housing crisis some say is exacerbated by the city’s Land Development Code, Planning commissioners decided to take matters into their own hands by creating working groups tasked with studying and proposing changes that might help lower the cost of housing.

“(The Land Development Code) was bad 10 years ago, and now it’s just really, really bad,” Commissioner Greg Anderson said Tuesday. “So what can we do to make it a whole lot less bad? We’ll see.”

There is a general agreement among commissioners that the land use code, which governs what can be built where, needs fixing. But finding which fixes to send to City Council, which has the final say on code changes, may prove complicated. 

Cognizant of the unwieldy nature of the LDC and its tendency to stir controversy, commissioners over the past several weeks worked “to make the scope both realistic and something that’s actually productive and ultimately actionable,” Commissioner Robert Schneider said. 

To this end, the working groups will focus on separate parts of the development process. One group is tasked with site development standards, things like stormwater protection rules or tree preservation. “Think anything horizontal,” Commissioner James Shieh said. 

Another group will tackle rules that pertain to “vertical development,” i.e., buildings themselves. Shieh said height and articulation rules as well as the so-called McMansion ordinance would fall into this category. 

While an additional group focused on zoning was originally proposed, commissioners decided instead to focus on the first two areas, which Shieh argued may have more “low-hanging fruit.”

The groups, Shieh explained, will first gather information based on conversations with city staff, professionals in the development industry and ordinary citizens. After organizing their findings, the groups will “prioritize recommendations based on readiness for action” and bring those to the full commission for a vote. More controversial changes are not off the table but are a lower priority, given divided opinions on the commission and Council.

A draft document shared among commissioners sheds more light on the proposed scope of the work:

Download (PDF, 78KB)

Apart from Council, the Planning Commission is the only other body that can propose changes to the LDC. “This is a body that not too long ago used to … initiate a lot of code changes,” Anderson said. Council abandoned a decadelong effort to overhaul the Land Development Code in 2020 after a judge halted the rewrite. In the time since, Council has only focused on changes that achieve consensus on the dais.

Commissioner Grayson Cox emphasized the importance of outreach to people outside of the development industry. “I think the perception out there in a large segment of the public is that developers, engineers, architects – they’re just profit-driven,” he said. “So by incorporating a good-faith effort to elicit that feedback from stakeholders who don’t have profit motives, that helps the perception of what we’re doing.”

After meeting in the coming weeks, the groups will report back to the commission with a proposed timeline for bringing code amendments for consideration.

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