The key takeaway from the residential sections of the draft zoning ordinance: the intent to keep things as built, except where it doesn’t. The city planners and consultants who developed the plan were given a brief: have the zoning map reflect the built status quo. None of the city’s residential neighborhoods will be upzoned — rezoned for more intensive use — as a result of the new zoning. There aren’t wholesale changes, for instance, that allow multi-family homes where there are none currently. But, there are some meaningful changes that reflect a response to certain trends, like the proliferation of McMansions and snout houses

As discussed in my first post, the draft zoning ordinance has two aspects to it: the how (or mechanisms) and the what (or standards). That first post addressed key aspects of the how. This post will describe a bit of the what: how the new zoning trues up the rules to match what’s actually built, as opposed to what is supposedly allowed or not allowed. 

At a very simple level, the current zoning allows only single-family residences in some districts and allows multi-family residences in other districts. As is frequently noted, more than 85% of the lots in the city are non-conforming, meaning that what is built on the lot is not allowed by the zoning that applies to the lot. A good portion of the non-conformity is attributable to multi-family homes that have been built in single-family districts.

The current zoning has three single-family zones: SR1, SR2, and SR3. The differences among the three zones relate to intensity of development, all of which is calculated. The zoning (mostly) doesn’t tell you what kind of house you can build, just how big it can be, mostly based on lot size. SR1 requires a larger lot size than SR2, which requires a lot size larger than SR3. SR1 allows less intense development — as measured by floor-area ratio or FAR — than SR2 or SR3. Smaller lots in all three zones have a higher allowable FAR than larger lots. There are similar dimensional controls in the four multi-residential zones: MR1, MR2, MR3, and MR4.

The proposed zoning has four residential district types (and a quasi-district). The official districts are R1, R2, R3, and Neighborhood General. The quasi-district is Non-Contextual Multi-Unit Residence, about which more later. Instead of calculated dimensional controls as with the current zoning, the proposed zoning ordinance has a menu of allowed building types across the four residential districts. Lot size is a relatively minor factor. For present purposes R1 and R2 districts are limited to single-family housing, analogous to SR1, SR2, and SR3.1 R3 and Neighborhood General allow single- and multi-family housing.

If you look at the current zoning map, you will find lots of examples of non-conforming multi-family housing. Take Cypress St., for instance. The entire street falls within an SR3 zone, which does not allow multi-family housing. Yet, there is a run of multi-family homes, and they are not of a type that fall within an SR3 exception.

The proposed zoning map assigns neighborhoods to zoning districts based on what’s already built. According to Deputy Planning Director James Freas, the intention was to create districts that best reflect the housing that exists, with every effort made to put all lots on the one side of the street on a block in the same district. At the level of single- v. multi-family, if a neighborhood has existing multi-family housing, it will be R3 or Neighborhood General. If not, it will be R1 or R2. The distinctions between R3 and Neighborhood General and between R1 and R2 have to do with proximity to village centers, lot size, and house types, which I’ll discuss in a later post.

Consistent with the mandate not to upzone, the same-street, same-district rule is broken on some streets that have a mix of single- and multi-family housing. On Cypress St., the lots with single-family homes are R2 and the lots with multi-family homes are R3. If there are any lots with single-family homes that are proposed for R3 or General Neighborhood are mixed in among multi-family homes and are likely already zoned MRn.



The city has prepared a a static comparison map that compares the proposed zoning districts (in color) to the current zoning districts (text). Here is the situation on Cypress St. Take a look at your neighborhood and see if there are single-family homes that are proposed to be in an R3 or Neighborhood General district that are not already in an MRdistrict. If you find any examples for which this is not true, please let me know in the comments.

With that understanding, you can see that the proposed zoning map maintains current single-family neighborhoods as single-family and only allows multi-family zoning in neighborhoods where it already exists, limiting multi-family even at the lot level, not the block level. The map is consistent with a value-less attempt to simply bring the zoning map into conformance with the built reality. At least in terms of single- v. multi-family housing, the map maintains the status quo.

The message to those of use who are in favor of upzoning and other value-based change is that the city first needs to change the mechanics of zoning and true the map, then we can turn our attention to changing what’s allowed. Turns out, though, the proposed zoning has a bunch of value changes. And, the purpose sections for each of the residential districts express a strong bias towards preserving the status quo. In future posts, I’ll discuss these and the notion that now is not the time to be making significant changes to our city’s zoning.

1 Both the current and proposed zoning have narrow exceptions for multi-family housing, mostly having to do with the conversion of larger homes to multiple units.