The Statesman interviewed me and Jim Duncan, a member of the CodeNEXT citizens advisory group and former head of city planning, last week to discuss how we expect the Heritage neighborhood to be zoned under CodeNEXT. Applying the proposed form-based regulations to a test neighborhood turns out to be a really useful exercise. In this case, it shows that the buildings on the ground today -- including low-slung apartment buildings in the neighborhood interior -- cannot be replicated faithfully under the form-based code.
The draft code has many problems that need to be fixed before the draft zoning maps are released. The biggest one is this: the code inexplicably shoves most of the “missing middle” housing – low-rise apartment buildings, courtyard buildings and rowhouses – out of the T4 transect zones where they belong. As a consequence, the proposed transect zones cannot handle our diverse neighborhoods.
Heritage is bounded on the north and south by 38th and 29th streets, and on the east and west by Guadalupe and Lamar. It is not part of the University Neighborhood Overlay, but it is just north of there. It hosts a bunch of students but there are also quiet, single-family streets.
It has a diverse mix of building types. There are detached, single-family homes and duplexes; six-plexes and twelve-plexes; low-rise apartment buildings and courtyard buildings, almost all of them 2 or 2.5 stories.
The apartments are not limited to the periphery of the neighborhood. Here is a low-rise apartment building at West and 32nd, in the heart of the neighborhood:
And here is a 10-plex at Maiden and King, around the corner from another low-rise apartment building:
These tracts are zoned multi-family. And the neighborhood plan calls for them to remain multi-family. Here is the neighborhood future land use map:
Yellow denotes singe-family, brown and purple denote mixed-use, and orange -- of which there is plenty -- denotes multi-family.
Our new code should be robust enough to handle the stuff on the ground today, especially when it is sanctioned by the neighborhood plan. But how do we zone Heritage?
Here are our options:
It’s clearly inappropriate to stick the entire neighborhood in one of the T3 single-family/duplex zones. That would exclude all of the multi-family.
But there’s zero chance that this interior multi-family will be zoned T5. That’s for (relatively) high-density urban development. T5 allows either four-story/65 foot buildings (T5N.SS) or six-story/65 foot buildings (T5U). The Heritage homeowners tolerated some interior multi-family in the neighborhood FLUM, but I suspect a 65-foot tall multi-family building would be another matter.
That leaves T4. T4 should be a transition zone. It should permit the low-rise, two- to three-story apartment buildings that are the stuff of Heritage's interior. But T4 allows minimal multi-family. T4.IS allows a four-plex. T4.SS allows an 8-plex. And that’s it. No low-rise apartment buildings. No courtyard buildings. No rowhouses. Not even any “large” muti-plexes with 9-12 units. Much of the multi-family in the Heritage interior would be explicitly illegal under T4. (The T4.MS (main street) zone allows a bit more missing middle but is reserved for commercial corridors.)
The sharp jump from T4 to T5 shown on the chart above is a problem. Heritage cannot be mapped under the proposed code. It will be either dramatically "down-zoned” or dramatically "up-zoned.”
I have no idea how the consultants will address this in the draft maps. The only solution I see is to do something hideous like splice in some Euclidean zones to handle the multi-family tracts.
People are eager to see the CodeNEXT zoning maps. I get that. I’ve heard a lot of, “We won’t know what any of this means until we get the maps.” But the fact is we can tell now, today, that the new form-based code cannot handle development in some of the existing neighborhoods. It will be a critical mistake to release maps that are not up to this basic task.
2/21/17 Edit: Corrected address for property shown in first photo.
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