City eyes residential density changes

Proposed changes to the city's development regulations that could allow more flexibility for developers and be easier to understand were reviewed by the planning commission at its meeting last week.

Commission members suggested city staff focus on just residential development for now and look at how the proposed changes might fit with the city's planned unit development standards.

The reasoning behind setbacks from property lines also should be included in the city code, city planners were told.

The planning commission will review the proposal again at its next meeting, set for 6 p.m. Sept. 2 at the Sequim Transit Center, 190 W. Cedar St.

Then it will go to the city council at its first meeting next month, set for 6 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Transit Center. The council's Sept. 2 study session has been canceled.

City planning director Dennis Lefevre told the planning commission the city's current building code is "a cookie cutter approach."

So city staff is proposing alternative lot densities and lot coverage to allow more creative approaches by developers, he said.

"It is proposed through these amendments to allow flexibility in lot sizes, setbacks and lot coverage while allowing the overriding density control structural development," he wrote in a memo to the commission.

Three of the city's residential zones (R-I, R-II, R-III) require a minimum lot size of 6,250 square feet, which can be impossible to achieve, Lefevre said.

So city staff is proposing eliminating the minimum lot size and letting the permitted density determine the lot size instead, he said.

It would create a lot more flexibility and perhaps create more housing clusters and open space, Lefevre said.

He also proposed changing the city's required setbacks from the property line, which can eat up as much as 57 percent of the lot size.

"That's the other issue," Lefevre said.

The city's commercial building setback requirements vary according to the type of street and nearby residential areas, Lefevre said.

Assistant planner Joe Irvin said the setbacks the city has now are "quite restricting."

So perhaps the city could have a sliding scale of setbacks depending upon the zones, he said.

Zero lot lines will be added as an option but setbacks would be addressed in the zoning section of the city code instead of the existing setback table, Lefevre wrote in his memo.

Planning Commission chairman Larry Freedman said the city's current requirements allow seven lots per acre if the lot size is 6,250 square feet.

So they could take that out but he would like to see the benefits to both the city and the developer spelled out so he could understand it better, Freedman said.

A better buffer that provides more screening, such as a wall instead of trees, would allow the developer to have less setback between his building and adjacent buildings, Freedman said.

"The nature of the buffer should be included. It can make a difference," he said.

Planning commissioner Mark Ozias said if they let zoning dictate lot size, then maybe they should let zoning dictate buffers in the same way.

Planning commissioner Ted Miller said it's critical what buffering is required.

Being adjacent to residences and roads is an important difference versus being adjacent to another commercial building, he said.

"Let density drive everything. Developers have an incentive for creating a reasonable lot size," he said.

Freedman said there are defined reasons for setbacks and they should approach it that way versus arbitrary numbers.

Planning commissioner Barbara Richmond said there are reasons for those numbers so they should just keep the reasons and get rid of the numbers.

Mark Ozias said he didn't think they could state the reason for the setback without including a number for it.

Freedman said developers want it easy, tell them what the standards are and they will design around them but that's not in the city's best interests.

Stating the intent of the setback is better than just stating an arbitrary number although some numbers probably aren't just arbitrary, Freedman said.

He would like to see the reasons as well as the numbers, Freedman said.

They should talk about residential and commercial requirements separately, he said.

Maybe the residential standards could be done in September and the commercial ones later, Freedman said.

Lefevre said he was comfortable that the planning commission was "on board" with the concept.

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