San Carlos residents concerned about residential lot splits can breathe a sigh of relief after the City Council approved development standards increasing the minimum residential lot size and width and restricting flag lots on Monday night.
Responding to concerns that development standards implemented in 2011 increased neighborhood density without much community benefit, the council accepted a Planning Commission recommendation and voted 4-0 on the new standards with Councilman Ron Collins absent. The changes will increase the minimum lot size for subdivisions to 10,000 square feet from 5,000 square feet and minimum lot width to 65 feet from 40 feet.
The new standards also include an additional provision restricting flag lots in residential neighborhoods. City officials and residents have previously deemed flag lots as disruptive to the general pattern of a neighborhood.
Several community members came forward to urge the council to revert back to the pre-2011 standards. Many residents, like Brent Cowan, have attended public hearings on the topic since June when the City Council imposed an emergency moratorium, which prohibited some residential property owners from splitting their lots to build additional homes. Cowan lives on Cedar Street, a neighborhood that faced a possible lot split with resulting flag lots earlier this year. He said the current standards had a negligible impact on the city’s housing shortage, and only negatively impact neighbors of the eligible properties split to accommodate large homes on comparatively small lots.
“At the end of the day, you see a five to 10 [times] factor in terms of dissatisfied residents for one resident that is satisfied,” said Cowan, according to a video of the meeting.
Resident Peter Tzifas urged the council to vote against changing the current standards and instead to reconsider the entire ordinance.
“Just as the current code doesn’t fit the neighborhoods in and around Carmelita nor does the proposed code fit my neighborhood or the rest of San Carlos,” he said.
Tzifas said he favored policies requiring property owners considering lot splits to take a neighborhood’s existing qualities into account. He said he liked the approach of one policy requiring a minimum lot size of 5,000 square feet, with the additional requirement that the lot split align with the average lot size within a 300-foot radius.
Vice Mayor Matt Grocott was sympathetic to Tzifas’ concerns and advised the council to continue thinking about the entire ordinance and how it might play out in the future.
“Are we just going to take this action tonight because we’ve heard so many comments? I’m surprised this has gone through the process and so many people have had the chance to look at it … to me, this is a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to something that was bad,” he said.
Grocott acknowledged the public concerns the council has received in the past year, and ultimately voted to approve the new standards.
Mayor Bob Grassilli said when the standards allowing lot splits passed in 2011 they were not meant to negatively impact San Carlos residents, but rather had unintended consequences made apparent after economic conditions shifted.
“A lot of times, government does things because no one’s in the room,” he said. “I wish every night we had folks like this.”
Councilman Cameron Johnson thanked community members for voicing their concerns throughout the process, resulting in improved standards for property owners in the future.
“I hope this won’t be the end of it,” he said, according to a video of the meeting. “I hope you think of other things we can do to improve your neighborhoods.”
In other business, the council moved to reopen public hearing on the regulations for formula businesses downtown at its next meeting on Jan. 23 to incorporate Collins’ input. The effort’s aim was to keep mom-and-pop businesses from being displaced and retain the area’s small-town charm as commercial rents soar. Support was mixed, however, because it could have limited retail stores that people may want downtown.
The council also moved to discuss changing to the city’s general election cycle to align with statewide election dates to Jan. 23.
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