Cheney Community Development Director Brian Jennings told members of the Planning Commission at its March 11 meeting that high-density development in the city usually follows a certain pattern – one large, long uniform building on a lot or multiple buildings loaded up with units.
The city hopes to change that through revisions of its zoning code that provides more options for developers while making sure new apartment complexes are compatible with their surrounding neighborhood and capable of accommodating residents’ needs through using their feet, and not their cars.
Proposed changes in the city’s high-density codes would be achieved through a new zone and a modified code replacing two others. The new, R-T zone would serve as a transitional zone between nearby lower density zones by allowing only 8-15 units per acre on medium to smaller sized lots, individual structures with setbacks and encouraging one- to two-story buildings such as townhouses, duplexes and cottage developments.
No multi-unit structures would be allowed, as they would be in the R-HD zone, which replaces the current R-3 and R-3H zones. R-HD structures would have no maximum units per acre, density would be set by height limits, would be two- to four-stories tall and provide the options for similar structure types as in R-T.
Dimensional standards in both zones would be a minimum of 3,500 square feet and 35 feet in width for detached and attached houses and duplexes, but the city would offer a “density bonus” of 2,500 square feet and 25 feet if the applicant chooses narrower lots and elects to meet those requirements.
New in the codes is a “minimum functional outdoor space” requirement of 250 square feet per lot, roughly 10 x 10 feet, for attached/detached housing and 75 square feet per dwelling unit, 400 square feet per lot for multi-dwelling housing.
“This could be a courtyard, it could be landscaping, a nice porch, a patio for barbecuing, as long as it’s useable space,” planner Brett Lucas told the commission.
Most of the housing types allowed in the zones would require pedestrian connection to the street while de-emphasizing garages and driveways as major street-visual elements, also favoring creation of alleyways for vehicle access.
“The small lots cause some challenges with the neighborhood parking,” Jennings said. “You basically shift parking from you to your neighbor.”
The higher-density zones would be located within a minimum quarter-mile of resident services, such as grocery stores, to cut down on vehicle traffic.
“It makes common sense to have all the services nearby so they’re (residents) not all having to drive,” Jennings added.
The codes would also encourage building articulation, setbacks, to steer developers away from the long, straight wall design. It would also strive to encourage connectivity with other, compatible uses through things like common access points.
“We’re trying to offer different ways of getting to the same level of density,” Jennings said.
Several commissioners expressed concerns over flexibility in design as well as encouraging the construction of alleys, and potential maintenance problems that might bring.
“I’m assuming the city would not own the alley,” commission chair Vince Barthels said. “Can the city require any financial guarantees to maintain that?”
Public Works Director Todd Ableman said there wasn’t a “hammer” the city could use in such cases. Jennings and Lucas noted that maintenance could be set up through covenants, but those can fall apart down the road as new residents replace those who created and built the developments.
John McCallum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.