December 20, 2012 | Vol. 116 -- No. 35

Preserving and promoting residential livability takes center stage at Cheney planning meeting

Cheney Planning commissioners got their first look at proposed changes to the city’s low density residential district codes at their regular monthly meeting Dec. 10, changes designed to “preserve and promote neighborhood livability” while providing housing choices and lot flexibility for developers.

“Again, this is a draft,” Community Development Director Brian Jennings told the commission. “We’re not expecting that we nailed this right out of the gate.”

The proposed changes affect what are currently referred to as SR-1, R-1 and R-2 single-family and two-family residential zones, first changing the designations to R-4, R-6 and R-9 respectively. City planner Brett Lucas said the number designations refer to the number of homes allowed per acre where density is calculated through a formula where the site square footage is divided by the maximum square footage allowed to provide the maximum number of lots.

Jennings said the R-4 designation, four homes per acre, would be the lowest the city would go as costs to install infrastructure such water and sewer made anything smaller price prohibitive. Jennings and Lucas noted that examples of R-6 can be seen in the residential area between Fourth and Sixth streets as well as Golden Hills, with R-9 – two-family – allowing for a mixture of housing types, something requested by citizens through workshop comments.

One of the biggest changes in the proposed codes is incorporating flexibility, particularly in the R-6 and R-9 zones. Where current code fixes the lot density at one unit per 7,000 and 5,000 square feet, the changes would give a minimum/maximum density in R-6 between 5,000 and 9,000 while R-9 would be allowed 4,500/6,000 square feet.

Jennings said the density range provides developers flexibility in dealing with a variety of issues on a parcel, such as wetlands where having a lot range would allow for incorporating the wetlands into the development, rather than eliminating them or restricting the number of homes.

“Who decides on the lot sizes?” Commissioner Keith Klauss asked.

“You do,” Jennings replied. “What we do is tie it to the maximum density you can achieve on that lot. You decide the mix.”

Many of the proposed changes deal with development standards for lots and particularly structures. Building coverage ratios in R-6 and R-9 increase from 35 to 45 percent while minimum lot width decreases and a lot depth is established.

Building setbacks in the front and rear would drop under R-9 while setbacks along the sides change under all classifications. Setbacks from the street for garages and carports also increase, mainly to prevent vehicles from being parked in such a way as to jut out into sidewalks, decreasing pedestrian safety.

Height maximums for the primary structure have also changed from two stories not to exceed 36 feet under R-6 and R-9, 50 feet under R-4 to 30 feet over all three. A new standard proposed is minimum private outdoor space, established at 10 percent of the lot under all three designations.

“That ensures it’s not all structure and parking,” Jennings said.

The proposed codes require certain portions of the lot be set aside for front, rear and side yards, preventing portions of the structure from intruding into theses spaces. The exceptions are chimneys, bay windows and covered front porches, which Jennings said may extend 50 percent into the space.

“If you have a nice covered front porch we really should be encouraging that,” Jennings said. “It brings vibrancy to the neighborhood.”

Changes to development standards for duplexes allowed under two-family, R-9, zoning were also incorporated into the proposed standards. These are designed to achieve a goal of making duplexes look more like single-family housing through requirements that each unit have a separate covered entrance, a visible entrance and window facing the street while minimizing driveways and garages.

Duplexes on corner lots must have pedestrian entrances on opposite streets where the doorway is located in order to create the “overall appearance of a house” on either side.

Commissioners were generally favorable in their response to the proposed changes.

“I like the flexibility this provides,” Keith Fauerso said, not only in the structure sizes but that the new codes give clear definitions. Fauerso added that it might be helpful to the commission to better understand the changes by viewing existing examples, in Cheney if possible.

Jennings said it might be possible to show examples at the commission’s January meeting, but it might not be wise to show local examples since some residents might not appreciate the coverage.

“We could also pull real life examples from elsewhere,” he added.

Commissioner Chris Grover said he appreciated that staff had incorporated developer comments into the proposals.

“Not that we’re going to put in everything they want, but they are the ones who put their money here,” he noted.

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

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