Friday, December 09, 2005

Bone-headed Planners

In recent years there have been a number of jurisdictions that have made intelligent planning decisions by moving away from the postwar model of suburban development. Salem, Oregon is apparently not one of them. The planning department there is pushing a proposal to require all new development INCLUDE garages and larger lot sizes.

I couldn’t believe it, but there it was in the paper.

Proposal would require garages for new homes in city
Councilors likely won't vote on the plan until January
CRYSTAL BOLNER Statesman Journal
December 6, 2005
Every new residential home in Salem will be required to have a garage if the Salem City Council approves proposed changes to the city's residential-design standards. City councilors discussed design standards at their meeting Monday. They likely won't vote on the proposed changes until January. The proposal includes increasing minimum lot sizes on flag-shaped lots from 4,000 square feet to 5,500 square feet and requiring every residential home built in Salem to include a garage.
"The intent is to try to make infill lots more compatible with the neighborhood," said Vickie Hardin Woods, the city's community-development director. With current lot sizes, homes are squeezed onto flag lots, Woods said, creating large numbers of streets filled with tiny homes. The change would allow a bigger number of larger homes.
The council also discussed whether to make it illegal for residents to convert garages into second dwellings and using garages for extra bedrooms and family rooms. Woods told members of the council that she receives four to seven complaints per year about homeowners who have converted garage space into living space.

The council decided that it would stay silent about the issue. Councilor Dan Clem opposed the idea entirely. "There are people with growing families who need that space," Clem said.
From a conventional planner’s perspective, this policy change makes planning more difficult by making alternative proposals for new development or retrofits harder to implement. What generally works today may not work in the future. As hard as it may be to believe, the local developers are not enthused by the proposed changes. According to the TV coverage on this issue, it will prevent them from offering minimal lot-size houses and other offerings that could house more individuals at lower costs. Some developers there had been constructing projects that would qualify as smart growth.

It is certainly a strange day when you find developers in support of smart growth (albeit not vigorously) and the planning department in opposition.

Of course given the magnitude of our looming energy crisis and sheer unlikelihood that every household will continue to afford to own two (or more) vehicles, Salem’s proposed change is even more asinine. Likewise, the inclination to increase lot size will do little to help the city adapt to changing circumstances. An extra thousand or so square feet of lot size will not come in the least bit handy when it is occupied by a driveway and garage. These changes are just another example of an inability for many local governments to think outside the box. Most planners are just fine with developing their future plans based on past trends. In many cases, suggestions to the contrary are met with open hostility.

Whether Salem decides to mandate garages or not, in the grand scheme of things it will probably not matter much. The city’s ultimate prospects for the future are dependant on how well the greater Willamette Valley adapts to the consequences of Peak Oil.

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