November 29, 2012 | Vol. 116 -- No. 32

Cheney code changes should create liveability, flexibility

Proposed zoning would protect neighborhoods, promote healthy lifestyles and create developer options

Cheney planning officials have released a draft proposal for revisions in the city’s low-density residential zoning codes, with some component changes the first since the code was originally written in 1961.

John McCallum
Current R-1 single family residences in Cheney could carry a new R-6 designation and new requirements for infill development under proposed zoning code changes.

The changes were unveiled at a Nov. 19 workshop, and were to have been the topic of discussion at the following regular Planning Commission meeting. The meeting was canceled due to several illnesses, pushing review and further public discussion to the Dec. 10 meeting.

“It’s pretty substantially outdated when you look at what it requires and what other jurisdiction’s (codes) require,” Cheney Planning Director Brian Jennings said.

The proposal is the latest in a process to update the city’s codes that began 14 months ago, with commercial and industrial zone revisions already presented and more to come – including additional public input. Elements incorporated in the draft include a Visual Preference Survey of public opinions on specific residential designs, corresponding sections of the comprehensive plan, “best practices” surveys of area developers – some familiar with Cheney, some not – and code reviews from similar cities such as Ellensburg and Sandpoint, Idaho.

The first obvious change is in the residential zone designations. Zones SR-2, R-1 and R-2 for semi-rural residential, single-family residential and single-family/duplex residential have been replaced with R-4, R-6 and R-9 respectively. The new designations refer to the number of units allowed per acre, Jennings said, and correspond roughly to similar designations elsewhere.

“That’s kind of how it maps, but in some ways yes, some no,” he said. “We don’t want to make it too different from other jurisdictions so that when people come here it’s too strange.”

The changes reflect one of the surveyed developers concerns – creating flexibility. Under the current code in R-1 for instance, lot sizes are limited to 7,000 square feet per single family, but under proposed R-6, lots can vary from 5,000 to 9,000 square feet – with an average of one per 7,000 square feet maximum – as long as the acre contains no more than six residences.

Lot coverage areas – the structural footprint – have also been increased from 35 percent to 45 percent in R-6 and R-9. In some cases building heights have been “tweaked,” Jennings said, regarding detached buildings while minimum setback requirements have been standardized. Requirements for parking and driveway space have been addressed, with design elements such as requiring front door spaces on duplexes be located on the street side of the structure to make it look more residential.

The purpose of the changes are to “preserve and promote neighborhood livability and protect the consumer’s choices in housing” while also promoting infill residential development. Jennings said they also incorporated components of the city’s Let’s Move Cheney initiative promoting healthy lifestyles.

“There are certain things in the building environment that encourage that,” he said.

There was also a need to put a “Cheney twist” on the proposed changes, Jennings said. Besides community input, the Planning Department staff examined what’s in place, comparing a triangular portion of Cheney’s original residential section surrounding the Eastern Washington University campus and comparing it with newer areas.

“The same zoning was in areas such as Eagle Point (apartment complex) but there are different structures serving it,” Jennings said. “It occurred to us that the standards in both places shouldn’t be the same in both places.”

Jennings reiterated the proposed changes are drafts, and public comment is encouraged. The next step involves Planning Commission review Dec. 10 – with another workshop at 5:30 p.m. prior – followed by review and adoption by the City Council.

The department is also wrapping up code changes for multi-family housing. Jennings anticipates the review and comment process to wrap up sometime in March or April 2013.

“Then, we’ll apply it to the map,” he said.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

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