UPDATE May 15, 2015: Based on the feedback we have received from the Municipal Planning Board our City Planning staff will be going back out to our neighborhoods and development community to get a clear picture on what issues need to be addressed and will work to present those findings along with potential recommendations back to the board at a later date. We will be posting more on our City Planning website about how you can share your feedback and stay involved in our community planning process.
It has been a pleasure to work with residents, developers and City Commissioners to determine the best way to preserve our great downtown neighborhood character while still providing a variety of housing options in these neighborhoods.
Residents living in neighborhoods where duplexes are allowed have expressed concerns about how the duplexes do not match the character of the neighborhood and can even hurt their property values. We also know that duplexes provide advantages for our downtown neighborhoods by giving more affordable options for young families looking to purchase or rent homes.
Duplexes are only allowed in certain areas of our downtown neighborhoods that are designated as allowing multiple families to live on one lot within in that district. These are either One to Two Family Districts (R-2A) or One to Five Family Districts (R-2B).
The description and purpose for these areas in our Zoning Code is clear. These districts are intended to:
Conserve the general character of established neighborhoods which have developed over time […] New development in this district is encouraged to maintain the prevailing bulk, height, setbacks and general design of the surrounding neighborhood.
Over the last 20 years, infill residential development has become more common in our downtown neighborhoods (what we call the Traditional City). While much of this development shows positive improvement as people upgrade or enlarge their homes, some development has become out of character with the pre-existing development pattern. In particular, duplexes (2 attached units on one lot) have increased dramatically in size and are often located on lots previously occupied by a smaller single family home.
Historically, the prevailing setbacks of homes were often considerably more than the minimum required. This often left ample room for yards, landscaping, and mature trees. Over the last 20 years, new development has typically been constructed at the maximum height and bulk while meeting the minimum setback requirements. One or two lots on a block that are developed this way may be acceptable, but over time, as more and more lots are being redeveloped, the fundamental character and rhythm of the respective neighborhood development patterns has changed.
Our City planning staff has analyzed and worked with our neighborhood residents, developers and our City Commissioners to suggest the best way to balance homeowner affordability and market feasibility with maintaining the neighborhood character that exist in these areas.
To achieve this balance, staff is proposing in areas zoned for duplexes to:
- Reduce the maximum allowed bulk (its size in proportion to the lot it’s on) and height of homes in some of our downtown neighborhoods.
- Promote single family character by allowing tandems and lot splits, but prohibit side-by-side duplexes in some locations where they don’t match the existing neighborhood.
- Reduce the negative impacts of garages and parked cars by enforcing existing curb cut rules and making garages on new duplexes more hidden.
- Improve the appearance of duplexes and tandems
The following summarizes key principles of the proposed amendments:
1) Reduce the maximum allowed bulk and height of homes in our downtown neighborhoods
a) Limit Bulk Today, on a typical 50’ by 110’ lot, the maximum size of a duplex is 2,750 sq. ft. This is far larger than a typical adjacent single family home (generally 2,000 sq. ft. or less). The proposed amendments would reduce floor to area ratio (FAR) in the one to two family district (R-2A) from 0.50 to 0.45; it also proposes a maximum cap of 4,000 square feet for the combined units.
FAR is the ratio of the air-conditioned building space to the size of the lot. So, a 0.50 FAR on a 6,000 sq. ft. lot means that the maximum size of a home is 3,000 sq. ft. This maximum excludes un-air-conditioned spaces, including a garage, attic or porch.
For a typical lot, this change results in a reduction of 275 sq. ft. which results in 2,475 sq. ft of livable space. However, on oversized lots, the issue becomes more dramatic. A 75’ x 110’ lot (lot-and-a-half) results in a 4125 sq. ft. duplex. If each unit has a two-car garage, the size balloons to 5,025 sq. ft., which is more than twice the size of a typical single family home. The proposed change would result in a reduction of 412.5 sq. ft. and would allow more room on the lot to put the garages in the rear.
b) Limit Height There are examples of recent units being built with garages on the ground floor and two stories above that are substantially taller than surrounding areas. The proposed changes limit the height of duplexes and tandems in One to Two Family Districts to two stories, to be more compatible with existing single family development.
NOTE: The size of a duplex in a One to Five Family District lot would remain the same at 0.50 FAR; however the maximum combined 4,000 square footage would also apply. Slightly larger units are appropriate in this district because townhomes and small apartment buildings are also allowed. In addition, many of these neighborhoods are in historic districts and new development is reviewed according to the standards of the historic district.
2) Promote single family character
a) Allow Tandems The staff recommendation is to allow tandem dwellings on interior lots, not just corner lots. Tandems are very similar to front-to-back duplexes except that they do not share a common wall. They are similar to having a house in the front and a cottage home in the back. Tandem units have higher homeownership rates than duplex-condo units. Tandems are also more like traditional single family in architecture and form. By allowing tandems on interior lots, more developers may choose tandem instead of duplex development. This form of development arguably helps to preserve the single-family character of the neighborhood and increase homeownership and property values and also provides options for property owners wanting to build two residential units on their property.
b) Allow Lot Splits Staff is recommending to allow lot splits so each duplex unit can be on a separate fee-simple lot. This will create homeownership opportunities without the cumbersome condominium requirements that many duplexes have today.
c) Restrict Side-by-side Duplexes In order to maintain the look and feel of a single family neighborhood, side-by-side duplexes should not be allowed in the One to Two Family Districts (R-2A). Side-by-side units look like townhomes (and are often marketed that way). A side-by-side duplex is appropriate in One to Five Family Districts (R-2B), where townhomes are allowed.
3) Reduce the negative impacts of garages and parked cars
Strictly enforce the existing code curb-cut separation requirement on a single lot. This means most duplex and tandem sites will share a single curb cut which can accommodate a two-car wide driveway that can then provide access to each unit. Enforcing curb-cut rules will ensure that there is adequate room to keep on-street parking areas and provide green space in the front yard. This will also maximize available space for street trees between the sidewalk and the curb.
Only allow for front-to-back duplexes and tandem dwellings in One to Two Family Districts (R-2A) to ensure that at least one unit has a garage in the rear portion of the lot where it is less visible from the street.
4) Improve the appearance of duplexes and tandems
In the City’s traditional neighborhoods, the City already requires permit review to ensure proposed development meet provisions such as having a front door that faces the street, pedestrian access to the front door from the sidewalk, porches, minimum transparency, and maximum percentage of facade dedicated to a garage. However, this has not proven to be the sufficient to address the appearance of duplexes.
Tandem dwellings have additional appearance review standards to ensure that corner units are each distinguishable and different from the other in terms of finishes, roof lines, and other aesthetic features; and for all units, design must be compatible and consistent with the surrounding neighborhood.
The proposed appearance review standards will augment the standards for tandems and add duplexes to address how they meet the compatibility of the neighborhood and provide aesthetically pleasing design based on set requirements.
5) Reduce mass even further for Colonialtown North
Based on the concerns and feedback from the Colonialtown North Neighborhood staff is recommending a further reduction in bulk and mass for all development within that neighborhood to a 0.35 FAR. The intent is to place further restriction on size so that new development is compatible with the existing single family character of the neighborhood, where the majority of existing homes are currently 0.25 FAR or less.
On March 17, planning staff brought these recommendations to the Municipal Planning Board (MPB), a volunteer resident board. At the Municipal Planning Board meeting there was public testimony on both sides of the issue, with some who feel the proposals do not go far enough to protect our neighborhood character and others who contend that the proposed changes went too far and are too restrictive.
The Municipal Planning Board asked staff to hold a workshop to discuss these ideas further. After the workshop, the Board will decide how to move forward. This workshop will be held as the second part of the MPB’s regular meeting on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 at 8:30 am in City Council Chambers, 2nd floor of City Hall.
At the end of the April 21 workshop, the MPB will provide staff with further direction on how to proceed. The Board may decide more analysis and/or input is needed from the public, thus requiring a delay on any action to proceed. Or, the Board may decide it has enough information to proceed to set a new public hearing, most likely in May.
Any time the Board recommends amendments to the Land Development Code, this comes to the City Council in the form of a motion to recommend approval via the approval of the minutes of the Board’s meeting. Once the Council accepts these minutes, it authorizes staff to draft a formal ordinance. Any new ordinance requires two readings at City Council. At every City Council meeting there is opportunity for public input. Any changes that come out of the staff’s recommendations related to tandems and duplexes would follow this same process.
If throughout this process you, or any of your neighbors, have any questions about what City Planning staff are recommending or why we are doing so, please let us know. It is our goal to continue to ensure that Orlando’s neighborhoods are a great place to live.
– Dean Grandin, Planning Director