A few weeks ago, the Davis City Council approved an emergency ordinance that permits neighborhood notification and engagement when a proposal arises for the construction of new two-story residences and larger additions to existing residences in existing neighborhoods.
Under previous laws, if such projects are found to be consistent with existing zoning regulations, they need only request a building permit. Such process permits “no city discretionary review or neighbor notification.” There is, as this indicates, no noticing to the neighbors.
Now the issue goes back to the Planning Commission on Wednesday for consideration of a permanent ordinance.
At the time, there were two projects that drew the concern of neighbors – 525 Oak Avenue and 201 Russell Boulevard, which was recently approved and met all of the current regulations, but was massive and the noticing was insufficient.
Staff points out: “Neighborhood concerns have been focused in the area of both intensity of use, and new construction and additions being out of scale and incongruent with the existing built environment.”
Prior to the February 5 approval of an urgency ordinance, “such projects, when found consistent with all zoning regulations, require only a building permit which affords no City discretionary review or neighbor notification. As structured in the Municipal Code prior to the urgency ordinance adoption, the City has no authority to deny such a project, or to require adjustments in design to address potential neighborhood concerns.”
The urgency ordinance approved by council requires architectural and site plan review (also known as design review), for construction of single-family dwellings with two-story or more duplexes or two-family dwellings, additions to existing single-family dwellings, and duplexes or two-family dwellings exceeding forty percent of the gross square footage of the dwelling.
Staff writes, “The purpose of the urgency ordinance was to set an immediate opportunity for neighborhood notification for all newly constructed two-story residences, significant additions, and an opportunity to review the site plan and design of these projects to address concerns similar to those expressed in the past.”
The proposed process is for a staff level administrative review which would require notice to all residents and property owners within 500 feet of the project.
Staff would review the noticing map “to ensure that the boundary is sensible and may expand the 500’ notice when reasonable to do so.”
Neighbors would then have a ten-day comment period to review the proposal and post comments or questions to staff.
At this time, staff believes that existing height and area regulations are compatible with existing neighborhoods and thus do not need additional review. But those that exceed a 40 percent increase can create concerns about compatibility and this will allow for a review process that was precluded previously.
Back in February, City Planner Eric Lee told the Vanguard, “The point we would make with this one is that it was a ministerial building permit and did not require any special planning application or review because it met all the necessary zoning and development standards.”
He added, “There was no mechanism requiring additional review, but now with the urgency ordinance something like this would be subject to the design review process requirement outlined in it.”
As Community Development Director Ashley Feeney explained, “They were exploring coming back with two five-bedroom homes and two two-bedroom ADUs that would have been an over-the-counter ministerial review with no notice.”
However, with the urgency ordinance in effect, “(such a project) would require a design review application per the recently adopted urgency ordinance.”
We don’t want to have all of the additions covered,” Asley Feeney explained at the council meeting. “We wanted to go ahead and capture larger additions… Really looking at the additions that cause the most concerns. Forty percent is the sweet spot where we will have the design review.”
Mr. Feeney explained, “Neighborhood noticing and due process” is “really the chief concern when neighbors are surprised by new construction, especially when it’s large and out of scale.”
As Councilmember Lucas Frerichs pointed out, this is an issue that is not about students at all, it is about “quality of life in neighborhoods.” These proposals for huge additions and huge amounts of additional rooms were out of proportion with the rest of the neighborhood.
“There is a need for more scrutiny for these large expansions,” he said. “There might not be more than 20 a year, but the ones that have been coming in are in definite need of additional scrutiny.”
He also pointed out that most of these are happening only in a few central neighborhoods most immediately adjacent to the university.
Councilmember Dan Carson reiterated that this was not intended to impact students.
He explained, “We’ve worked hard to get city and voter approval for 4000 rental units in this town, we’ve worked hard with the university to get 5000 additional on-campus units in just the next five to six years. We care about providing housing for students, and our citizens in general, but we need to be careful about the impacts in our neighborhood.”
He said that “there’s no denying they have quality of life impacts.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting