Council Considers New Interim Ordinance on Building Height Regulations

Move is ‘push back’ against host of state regulations which would usurp local zoning laws

Published : Monday, June 11, 2018 | 5:41 AM

Pushing back against a host of new State regulations that would allow more density and development of local housing developments, including some which supersede local current city zoning laws, Pasadena’s City Council Monday will consider an interim ordinance to limit maximum heights of new residential buildings.

Under the proposed new ordinance, new buildings City-wide would not be allowed to be more than ten feet taller than the average height of existing buildings along the same block-face on which the new building is to be located, or the maximum height set forth in the Zoning Code, according to a Planning Department staff report.

“This approach affords flexibility for new development to better respond to the context of the existing built environment, while still ensuring that new buildings do not result in drastic or sudden changes in character,” the report stated.

According to the report, “this option would allow the same density currently allowed in the Zoning Code, thereby continuing to allow development of new housing units and avoiding potential conflict with the adopted Housing Element or State legislation.”

The City Council had directed Planning Department staff in April to develop short and long-term policy solutions that would reduce the intensity and impacts of new development projects and increase the production of affordable housing City-wide.

The City Council also expressed some concerns about new, higher-density developments that received affordable housing concession permits from the State of California for additional height and/or density in exchange for providing affordable housing units.

A major concern, according to the staff report, was that the projects “did not provide sufficient affordable housing to warrant the benefits of the concessions they received, and that the City should require additional public benefits in exchange for higher densities and additional height. The overall sentiment was that recent higher density developments are not consistent with the character of the City.”

“The feeling is that some of these developments are really getting too big out of scale with the neighborhood and in excess of frankly what we ever anticipated,” Mayor Terry Tornek said Friday.

Tornek also commented that new state exemptions allow developers to ignore building height limitations set by cities.

“We never contemplated having these 90-foot tall buildings and 100 units per acre,” Tornek said. “It’s just more than what we bargained for. We asked the staff to take a look at it and see how we can balance the need for housing without allowing these projects to be overbuilt.”

Local housing activist Jill Shook, however, took issue with the Mayor’s conclusions, saying, “We should not be capping the height. We should be increasing heights. There’s nothing wrong with taller buildings. How is that in any way changing the character of the city? This is all about development downtown.”

The proposed interim ordinance is one of many actions and proposals under consideration as the City weighs its options, Tornek said.

A recent example of the type State mandate that drew the Mayor’s concern was SB 827, a recent state housing bill—one of 16 proposed since 2017—that would have made it easier for developers to build apartments and condos near subway, light rail, and bus stops. That bill would have overridden local rules on height, density, and parking for housing developments within a half-mile of a train or subway station.

Under SB827 cities like Pasadena would have their local zoning laws usurped and replaced by new state standards allowing buildings to reach heights up to four and five stories.

The bill was shot down by the Transportation Committee April 17, never getting out of the Transportation Committee, and onto the floor, but exemplifies the new thinking in the State legislature which is legislating changes beyond the power the power of loocal cities to stop.

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