Two-Story Home Residential Neighborhood Compatibility Study Session Planned for November 19

What to expect with the upcoming discussion planned to evaluate establishing a neighborhood compatibility process for second story additions and new two story homes

At the November 19 Council meeting, the Council will be holding a study session to discuss exploring a neighborhood compatibility process for second story additions and new two story homes in Redwood City. This blog provides more details on the current process to build a second story addition or new two-story home, current issues with neighborhood incompatibility and immediate, short-term, and long-term solutions proposed for City Council consideration to provide additional guidance to City staff, property owners and architects when initially designing their addition or new home.

Redwood City’s Current Process

When a property owner proposes a project to build a second story additional or new two-story home they must apply for an Architectural Review permit. The process typically takes several months, and their immediate neighbors are notified. For City approval, the project must meet all Zoning Ordinance standards and the City planner reviewing the project must make certain findings of approval, including a finding that the home is being proposed in a manner consistent with the neighborhood character. The approval findings are provided in the Zoning Ordinance.

Current Issues Causing Compatibility Concerns

As land values have risen over the past decade, the size of homes proposed has increased. There have been several new, two-story homes approved at a City staff level (formally known as the Zoning Administrator) over the past year appealed to the Planning Commission. The appellants generally felt that the homes were too large, and/or not designed in a manner that was consistent with the neighborhood’s character. The Planning Commission agreed with the appellants, overturned the Zoning Administrator’s approval on several occasions. The Commission cited these projects did not meet the neighborhood character finding and/or there were other problematic design issues. At a recent July 25 study session, the City Council directed staff to develop solutions so that property owners could better understand what the City’s neighborhood character expectations are when designing a larger home.

For more about the July 25 Study Session direction and view the staff report and other documents, go here.

Solutions to Be Discussed at the November 19 City Council Study Session

At the November 19 Study Session, City staff will be proposing immediate, short-term and long-term solutions for City Council consideration. The City Council will discuss the following items, with no final decision planned at this meeting. Based on City Council discussion, City staff will return with additional solutions at a future City Council meeting.

Immediate Solutions-Currently, the neighborhood character-finding requirement in order to approve a second story addition or new two-story home does not provide any clarity regarding how a home should be designed to be compatible with the neighborhood. City staff will be asking the City Council to weigh in on a design principles policy that would guide City planning staff when reviewing projects. This policy could assist property owners and architects when initially designing their addition or new home.

Short-Term Solutions-City staff will be proposing that the Council consider adopting an Interim Ordinance in early 2019 that could provide additional guidance to property owners about the size of proposed homes. This ordinance would be in effect while City staff and the community work on longer-term solutions. Interim Ordinances are typically in effect for a specific period of time, and then sunset on a certain date. City staff will discuss an Interim Ordinance that limits the amount of floor area approved by the Zoning Administrator. Proposals for larger homes would be automatically reviewed by the Planning Commission and certain findings would need to be made in order for the project to be approved. City staff will also discuss other potential Interim Ordinance solutions.

Longer-Term Solutions- City staff will discuss the creation of a neighborhood design guidelines document and additional zoning code tools, such as permanent floor-area ratio limitations for additions and new homes, garage placement rules, and other related site development regulations. City staff expects that residential design guidelines and new zoning regulations will require community outreach and could take at least a year to complete.

As noted above, the November 19 study session will seek City Council and community input. There will be no final decision regarding these potential solutions. However, the City Council may give direction to City staff that helps guide future proposals for consideration by the Council in the future.

To learn more about these and other neighborhood character and design review items, go here.

Community Input Encouraged

City Council meetings are open to the public and the community is encouraged to attend to share their input, watch the meeting online or email City staff or the City Council with feedback.

To view City Council Agendas or watch meetings online, go here.

To share input with the City Council via email, go here.

To email Community Development staff about this issue, email the Assistant City Manager/Community Development Director, Aaron Aknin at aaknin@redwoodcity.org.

Other Online Resources

To learn more about current projects, go here.

To view City Maps and Search permit applications, go here.