Council Briefing: Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay

Today the City Council had a special joint briefing with the Plan Commission on the proposed Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay.

Residents had to wait FOUR HOURS before we got to the overlay. (FYI, I’m looking at how we can be more respectful of visitors’ time.)

The Mayor called a joint briefing with the Plan Commission. Director of Development Services briefed us on the overlay and then presented the alternative proposal the Mayor put together:

–No prevailing standards interim protection period
–75% of all property owners must sign petition
–Neighborhoods have 60 days to collect signatures
–Smallest overlay area is the original subdivision
–Height, side and front setbacks, garage placement and entry, and impervious cover on front lawn may be regulated

The Mayor then invited Michael Jung to present the proponents’ position and Paul Cadauro of the Home Builders Association to present the opponents’ position.

Michael Jung did a superb job of summarizing the arguments in favor of the older versions of the ordinance, both the version endorsed by the Housing Standards Task Force and the version that came out of ZOAC. Paul Cauduro also gave the Council the results of an economic study funded by the HBA. It was supposed to show how older neighborhoods benefit from being knocked down and rebuilt.

Bruce Wilke, chair of the Plan Commission, made a presentation of some figures in his possession about 100 new homes sold recently, supporting the idea that the City would lose enormous tax revenue if it passed an ordinance that slowed down the “McMansion” building boom.

After the presentations, most Council members and some members of the Plan Commission voiced their opinions and concerns. Bill Blaydes was the most outspoken opponent of the ordinance. He and Mitchell Rasansky stated that the present Conservation District ordinance can be used to do everything the Neighborhood Stabilization Overlay is trying to do.

I spoke about why it is so important to give neighborhoods the tools they need to make decisions about their future. We have made neighborhood quality of life one of our top five priorities in our city, and nothing is more integral to our quality of life than our neighborhoods.

You can watch my statement here:
Small (6MB, Windows Media Format)
Large (25MB, Windows Media Format)

There are three primary problems with the overlay alternative as proposed. First, the 75% petition requirement is too high and is not required for any other zoning change or area designation in our city. If 50%+1 is good enough to allow Public Improvement Districts, Tax Increment Financing Districts, Special Use Districts, etc. to be presented to the City Council for determination, then why isn’t it good enough for our neighborhoods?

And when was the last time we required 75% of all registered voters to pass a referendum or elect a councilmember? Remember, the City Council doesn’t have to pass an overlay (or PID or TIF, etc.) just because folks collected 50%+1 signatures. We have discretion to make those decisions. In a neighborhood where some people are absentee landlords or just don’t care either way, a threshold in line with our other standards makes more sense.

The petition must be collected over the course of two months. Speaking from personal experience, this is too short a time period. The M Streets Conservation District moved at the speediest clip of any conservation district, and it took us six months to get signatures. This time limit is particularly harsh considering neighborhoods have to get 75% of an entire subdivision, which can be over 1000 homes.

Lastly, a subdivision is too large to be the minimum area permitted. Often, one or two streets get developed before a neighborhood realizes they want to protect the character of their neighborhood. Shouldn’t they be able to protect the remaining streets? A more reasonable alternative may be the 50 homes, in a compact, contiguous area, which was proposed by the Plan Commission.

At the end of the day, the Mayor appointed a committee of five council members to work on this issue and arrive at some version of the ordinance which could be submitted for a vote, perhaps as early as September 28. The Mayor appointed me along with Leo Chaney, Bill Blaydes, Ed Oakley and Elba Garcia (James Fantroy has taken Dr. Garcia’s place).

There was no formal public input at the meeting, but Wendy Segrest, Nancy Moore, Danielle Arvanitas and Ken Lampton had all signed up to speak at the “open microphone” session at the end of the briefing. They gave excellent short speeches about the need for the overlay.

I will be meeting with the committee over the next few weeks to work on the overlay. If you think we need an overlay, write to members of the City Council and let them know.

(My thanks to Ken Lampton for his summary of the meeting from which I’ve borrowed.)

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