Members of City Council’s Housing and Planning Committee grappled during a Tuesday briefing with how to best approach moving forward on a set of amendments to the city’s Land Development Code.
The discussion occurred at the committee’s May 23 special called meeting, during which it received a briefing from staff on a plan for prioritizing the amendments. The group of city departments that put together the plan is known as the Land Development Code Cabinet, and includes representatives from the Development Services Department, Housing Department, Planning Department, Transportation Department, Public Works and Watershed Protection. The committee voted to request a briefing and prioritization plan in April.
A May 23 staff memo outlines staff’s proposal, which splits the amendments into three categories: housing amendments, non-housing amendments, and programmatic direction and studies.
The housing category includes amendments previously initiated by Council or the Planning Commission and are directly aimed at increasing housing supply. That category is further divided into items that would be straightforward to both adopt and implement and items that would take more time and staff resources to prepare for adoption. Staff has said staffing challenges are impacting its ability to keep up with the volume of work at City Hall.
“(We) really have tried to do a thorough analysis and (deliver) a proposal to you that we can move forward on much-needed code amendments at a time where we want to make sure that we’re balancing the bandwidth of staff, that we’re recognizing the limitations that we have, and making sure that that process is streamlined,” said Assistant City Manager Veronica Briseño.
In the memo, staff recommends Council prioritize amendments that fall in the housing and straightforward adoption and implementation categories. “As these amendments are successfully adopted, staff resources can be shifted to more complex amendments with greater potential to increase housing capacity consistent with other Council goals and priorities,” the memo reads.
One of the amendments staff would like to prioritize is the creation of a streamlined amended plat process that will facilitate residential infill units. Infill units refer to new units created within existing subdivisions. Brent Lloyd from the Development Services Department said the amendment would utilize a provision of state law. “Given the time and costs associated with subdivision, this amendment could make creation of residential lots a lot easier,” Lloyd said.
The primary challenge with the change is identifying areas to allow the process. Because the change limits the city’s ability to review and apply a host of regulations, staff will focus on areas where infrastructure and other factors can best accommodate additional lots without subdivision review.
Another amendment on staff’s priority list is the part of code that refers to substandard lots. Prior Council amendments made it difficult to develop lots that don’t meet current minimum area or dimensional standards. “So we’re going to look at changing the criteria to allow those lots to develop independently,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd told the committee that staff will also prioritize housing amendments that are in the more complex B tier, but the work will take more time and review. One of those items is “site plan lite,” which Lloyd said originated in the city’s Affordability Unlocked program. The first component of the site plan lite amendment, which Lloyd said is “straightforward” to implement, is allowing up to four units to be built using the standard building plan review process that applies to a single-family home.
That language could be on Council’s agenda as soon as July 20. The second component of the site plan lite process, however, is more complicated, Lloyd said. The second part of the amendment calls for a modified site plan process for a “missing middle” housing, which includes between five and 16 units.
“It involves creating a set of tailored regulations that don’t currently exist,” Lloyd said. “We have right now a system that is sort of modeled on building permit for single-family or one and two family residential, full-size plan on the other end of the continuum, and then there’s site plan exemptions that are kind of closer to the building plan side. But what we’re looking at here is really creating a new tier of regulations that would accommodate the greater impacts of missing middle, but not require the full level of water quality and drainage that is required for site plan.”
He continued: “And so that is challenging and that will have organizational impacts.”
Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison urged quick action and made a motion to recommend that the list and framework be considered by the full Council for approval. Council Member Ryan Alter proposed that the committee have a more in-depth discussion on whether the amendments are currently prioritized in the correct order.
Harper-Madison disagreed. “Unfortunately, I think historically we think as a body what we’re supposed to do in order to make decisions, in order to direct staff, is just fly resolutions out the door one by one by one,” she said. “I would like very much for us as a body to be able to establish a cadence. How do we take staff’s ideas? You are actively doing the work that we directed you to do. We need to be listening to y’all.”
Alter said in response that it is Council’s job to direct staff, and that he thinks staff is sometimes reluctant to prioritize the resolutions of different Council members. “And if we can give that guidance to say, hey, look, this is where we are as a Council in terms of prioritization, that’s important,” he said.
Committee members worked on the dais on a separate version of the chart created by Alter’s office. He moved to adopt the amended prioritization chart and send it to the full Council for consideration. Harper-Madison expressed concern that the committee had not adequately vetted the changes or their potential impacts on the overall prioritization plan. “My preference would be defer to staff every time,” she said. She requested the committee pass Alter’s motion so that the prioritization chart could move forward to Council’s June 8 meeting, but with the understanding that the chart would return to the committee for another review. The motion passed.
Image by Ag Ku from Pixabay.
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