Planning Commission Chooses Wisely in Home Size Debate

The Redwood City Planning Commission wisely decided to defer action on a proposal to severely curtail house sizes in the RH zone.

Who says détente is dead?

Recently, the Redwood City Planning Commission, sensing their own was brewing (written tongue firmly in cheek), wisely decided to defer action on a proposal to severely curtail house sizes based on Floor Area Ratio (FAR) for sloped lots in the RH zone.

Now if all that jargon makes your head do the backstroke – you’re not alone. Here are the basics: RH is zoning code shorthand for Residential Hillside. FAR is a formula whereby the total gross floor area of a home on a hillside lot is calculated factoring in the slope of the lot.

Basically, you subtract a variety of ‘non-livable spaces’ (such as the garage,
stairwells and closets) as well as setbacks and environmental considerations
(fairly pro forma); adjust for the angle of lot’s slope and voila! – what’s left
is the house you get to build.

A vocal and rightfully angry cadre of citizens, current homeowners and affected property owners with lots they have yet to improve all showed up to protest the new restrictions.

(Remember, there is an FAR formula already in play in Redwood City. The proposal would put a chokehold on those regulations.)

And since the RH designation is part of the city’s zoning code, the change would apply to all RH zones on a citywide basis. (In the interest of full disclosure, there were a couple of folks who actually supported the new restrictions.)

In the proverbial nutshell, planning staff proposed to limit the size of a home that one can build on their own property to, ostensibly, 1,500 square feet.

Just as impactful, there will be severe limits placed on new and remodeled projects. Many existing homeowners will not be able to make any new additions and, while assured by staff that a person’s home could be rebuilt/remodeled as a result of a catastrophe (a fire, for example), there is no guarantee you would be able to build the same size house you previously enjoyed. The proposal grew out of the .

The Planning Commissioners are to be commended for their foresight (and response to the public outcry) in not forwarding the item to the City Council and directing staff to set up further study sessions and public meetings. Of course, the logical action would be to simply reject the proposal and continue evaluating RH structures on a case-by-case basis.

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Jennifer Tegnerud November 03, 2011 at 03:08 PM
Why Would RWC want to limit house sizes up there in the first place? I never saw an article with the back history or I missed it. It seems stupid on RWC part to limit housing sizes, not only because it will deter susccessful families from wanting to move to RWC but it also keeps the amount of property taxes SMC collects low. If you haven't already as a homeowner you can reassess your property if the value has gone down considerably, there are many REO/foreclosures in SMC, and this all means less taxes paid to SMC, so unless it is a serious environmental impact reason why the planning commission feels the need to meddle in homeowners business, then leave it alone.
Stacie Chan (Editor) November 04, 2011 at 07:56 AM
Hi Jennifer, I just linked out to the article. Thanks for bringing that up! http://patch.com/A-mY9H
Jim Clifford November 04, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Thanks for the link, Stacie. Patch is on top of this. Stay there so more people will come to meetings. The height of the homes in the hills is important. Just take a stroll and look around to enjoy the view, which, too often, is blocked by a second story on a house. Would make a good video for Patch. Property owners should worry about value - just remember that a view is priceless and belongs to everyone. Where the hillside is involved, perhaps height can be exchanged for width.
Dan Ponti November 05, 2011 at 08:05 AM
There are good environmental reasons for the building restrictions in hillside areas. Larger footprint structures require more hillside excavation which can lead to increased erosion hazard and slope instability. When geologic hazards result, more than just private property is impacted and we all pay for the cleanup and repairs. Larger footprint homes also means more impervious surfaces, which leads to increased runoff. This not only promotes erosion in hillside areas, but siltation and flooding downstream. Neighborhoods like Centennial and North Fair Oaks have seen increased flooding incidents that are primarily caused by increased urbanization in the upper reaches of the watersheds. These new zoning regulations therefore benefit the entire community. The new restrictions also aren't onerous or extreme. In fact, they are still less restrictive than those imposed by the County and nearby cities. I'm a homeowner and am protective of my rights, but we all have a shared responsibility to tread lightly on our land and recognize that our actions do impact others.
Nancy Mangini November 13, 2011 at 06:52 PM
Let's be clear. There are NO safety or flooding issues in the RH zoning districts in Redwood City. Permitted carefully on a site-by-site basis, RWD Planning has done a superb job of keeping everything on an even keel, basically balancing property rights with community safety. This new policy only serves the "not in my backyard" folks who want to limit economic opportunity for other property owners. If the Planning Commission takes the time (and it appears they will!) to study the facts, they will reject this proposal outright and leave it alone. It ain't broke, so don't fix it!


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