By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – As we search for creative ways to expand housing given land use restrictions in Davis, one of the more valuable tools may be to end R1 zoning restrictions that limit lots to single-family homes and allow for duplexes—or in some cases fourplexes—to be built in single-family home neighborhoods.
This has triggered a lot of pushback but a lot of that is based on fear and lack of understanding, rather than a rational understanding of how it would work. Moreover, it ultimately might be outside of our local control.
As one resident of Rose Creek said, “I am shocked to learn the radical steps being proposed, ending single family housing zoning, and allowing development by right, seems like a really drastic measure. This would result in my neighbors’ houses potentially being purchased by investors, bulldozed and replaced with many apartment complexes all without even a public approval process or any notice to the neighborhood that would devastate our neighborhoods.”
The public commenter conflated a lot of things here. First, the elimination of R1 zoning would allow for, at most, duplexes or fourplexes. Second, the city indicated that they were not looking at this for existing neighborhoods but rather new developments. And third, by right development, if they implemented it, would be based on whatever the current zoning is. You couldn’t put whatever you want in.
We have seen the argument posed that, if you are an existing resident, it is somehow unfair if you neighbor converts their home into a duplex or a fourplex.
One argument is: “When people are buying a home in a new community at least they know the rules going in that a single family home next to them could possibly be reconfigured into a fourplex.”
On the other hand, while the city has made some restrictions on mini-dorms, there is practically nothing to stop someone from converting a single family into a student rental housing that could hold 8 to 10 people, without really triggering any of the city’s mini-dorm rules.
Why is this such a concern? For one thing, we often see duplexes tucked into single-family neighborhoods already. Moreover, we allow the construction of ADUs or grannyflats, which creates a similar dynamic. Furthermore, duplexes are permitted in the R-2 and R-2CD districts, which are primarily single family but also allow duplexes as a permitted use.
The city points out, “Well-designed duplexes fit into single-family neighborhoods from a scale and level of intensity standpoint.”
Moreover, the city would not simply be plopping down huge out-of-scale buildings into single-family neighborhoods.
In fact, while a revision of a R1 zoning would occur, the city would still be able to regulate size and scale, so that the level of intensity of a fourplex could be held to the equivalent of perhaps two SFRs, depending on size and number of bedrooms. A five-bedroom home filled with students could in fact have a much greater impact than a fourplex filled with families better able to afford the purchase, given the size the homes.
Besides, as we saw with Mission Residence, even without the R1 changes, the city has the ability to approve high-density housing in single-family low density neighborhoods simply by planning by exception.
This may well be the wave of the future anyway, as we look to put more housing on a smaller footprint of land and create the ability to have affordability by design and create housing that would enable more families to live in Davis.
Moreover, as Vice-Mayor Lucas Frerichs pointed out: “[T]his may actually already be something that’s taken out of our hands by the state legislature.”
The bill from Senate President Toni Atkins, SB 9, would automatically allow for duplexes on a single-family zoned lot. He said that was something that they may not find out until September though.
What is the solution to the housing crisis being proposed by the slow growth advocates here? They are against various forms of densification such as changing R1 zoning and creating mixed-use neighborhood shopping centers. They are not in favor of streamlining redevelopment by creating a by-right process. And they are not interested in amending restrictions on greenfield development.
What does that leave us with? We are running out of space and running out of options. Changes to R1 zoning can be done while keeping the core character of neighborhoods intact, and it gives us a tool to slowly convert inefficient low-density neighborhoods into more reasonable accommodations.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link: