Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Open Letter to City

Thank you for your attention to the problems of older neighborhoods at [Tuesday's] meeting. Mention was made of looking at other cities' responses. The infill proposal being considered today in Chevy Chase, Md, is attached -- it's rationale matches the concerns of many in Raleigh. It addresses the important character issue and offers incentives for builders to work within this definition.

The NCOD is a fine concept. But you may have noticed in today's meeting that neighborhood protection is a fractious issue. This makes the NCOD a much harder process on the residents. I believe the city needs act clearly and soon with minimum standards for builders "doing business" in our city. If a neighborhood wishes to add more layers of protection, then the NCOD is a great option. Imagine if Fallon Park had been able to file its NCOD last year, we might be in a different place this year ... but we were turned away. This whole effort has been very difficult on our residents.

From the Charlotte Observer, an editorial comparing Charlotte infill standards to Raleigh's (when they thought Raleigh might act on this issue first) stated: "Why should cities care if big, new houses are altering the character of urban neighborhoods? Because those neighborhoods' value is tied to their character, their mix of people and the quality of life they sustain. Lose that, and you've lost more than bungalows and streetscapes."

Just yesterday I visited neighbors on my block and found there is still much concern about both the threats to the character of the neighborhood and the re-evalautions which are inflated by these new million dollar homes on our block. Wes Minton, in the N&O, stated that "The reasons these tax values are up is due to the teardown lot values. A half acre lot is worth $500,000, $600,000, $700,000 ... If this proposal gets approved, your lot is no longer worth that." The converse of this is that our property values and taxes are affected by this land rush and the diversity of our neighborhoods is at stake as well. I have lived in my home 35 years and now face tremendous taxes based on land reevaluations based on speculative real estate activities.

I feel strongly that residents of a neighborhood should not have to take the full measure of responsibility within a township to protect their ability to live in their home. We need the City of Raleigh to take city responsibility for this issue and offer some oversight, guidance and structure. I hope this information will be useful in the coming deliberations.

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From Maryland Political Watch:

Tuesday, January 08, 2008
New Moratorium Proposed in Town of Chevy Chase

The Town of Chevy Chase will consider a new emergency building moratorium on Wednesday evening during its 7-9pm meeting. The purpose of the proposed moratorium is to stop new construction (except of additions of under 500 sq. ft.) until the Town can adopt the ordinance proposed by the Town's Land Use Committee designed to promote construction compatible with existing homes in the Town.

The crux of the proposed new ordinance is a new limit on floor-to-area ratio (F.A.R.) which allows larger homes on larger lots. The ordinance would also include new height and lot coverage restrictions beyond those already imposed by Montgomery County. The proposed ordinance also contains incentives in the form of permitting a higher F.A.R. for additions to existing homes (rather than teardowns) and for construction that meets certain environmental standards.

I favor both the moratorium and the concept behind the new ordinance. The new ordinance is complex and the Council will need time to consider it carefully and to hold public hearings on it before adoption. At the same time, I hope the Council moves expeditiously to move the process forward and enact the ordinance.

Even if the Council acts quickly on the ordinance, the moratorium is needed because the Town may continue to lose existing homes due to this delay and because the new ordinance has taken longer to enact than expected. If no new construction occurs, then no one is injured by the moratorium but Town residents will feel reassured. Supporters of the new moratorium plan to present a petition in support of it at tomorrow night's Council meeting.

The Town Council can feel safe enacting the moratorium on an emergency basis because of the long-established record in hearings and elections of support for measures like moratorium and the ordinance. This new ordinance represents the culmination of a process begun with the first moratorium.

From Chevy Chase MD Land Use Committee: extracted.
How Can The Town Regulate New Construction to Protect its Traditional Character?
Jakubiak & Associates, in consultation with Studio 27 Architecture and the Land Use Committee, is putting together a proposal designed to ensure that new construction would enhance rather than detract from the Town’s distinct, traditional character. It is recommending that the Town keep its setback laws in place and promote compatible construction by establishing limits on: (1) floor area through a Floor Area Ratio (F.A.R.), (2) height, and (3) lot coverage. Restrictions also would apply to the size of driveways and garages. Under consideration is the adoption of base F.A.R.s, combined with the opportunity to achieve additional floor area by meeting a number of specific objectives. The size of base and total F.A.R.s is still being studied.

A primary objective of this effort is to enable most residents to add onto their existing homes, as they have in the past. The town’s existing houses define its character and their retention should be encouraged. Residents and builders choosing to add on to, rather than demolish and rebuild, will be entitled to a higher base F.A.R. To promote leadership in environmental design, a higher base F.A.R. may also be available for LEED certified projects (gold or platinum). LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and certification is awarded according to the level of compliance achieved under a nationally accepted green building rating system, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Residents or builders seeking to build even larger additions or to demolish and build a new house will be eligible for additional floor area, up to a maximum, based on an approach similar to that devised by the USGBC. Additional square footage will be awarded according to the number of points accrued by compliance with a number of items on a laundry list of character-defining and/or pro-environment features, such as limiting paving in the front yard or total lot coverage; preserving or planting new shade trees; breaking up a fa├žade to make a larger house appear smaller; and introducing one story elements, such as a porch. Residents and builders will be able to pick whether and which specific features they want to meet.

Fallonia invites you to submit your letters to the City of Raleigh to post on this site.

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