Size matters

Homeowners, realtors, and architects both for and against larger houses crowded City Council chambers on Saturday during a heated public meeting of the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance (NPO) committee. City planning staff unveiled the first draft of updated guidelines for the design and renovation of single-family, two-story homes — the product of two years of work with the NPO Update Steering Committee. Informally dubbed the Big House Ordinance when it was created in 1992 to limit house size, the NPO requires houses to be compatible with their neighborhoods. The draft update is more stringent, requiring two-thirds of the Planning Commission to approve a project instead of a simple majority and limiting the floor areas of houses based on lot size — 4,375 square feet including garage would fall at the large end. Although the limits would apply only to houses on lots 15,000 square feet or less, owners of larger lots who wished to exceed suggested guidelines would need to jump through other hoops, including holding a workshop for neighbors. On the other hand, the updated draft is friendly to builders as it makes the process less arbitrary, according to city staff. Residents organized as the Citywide Homeowners Association opposed the draft ordinance, arguing for a larger ratio of floor space to lot size. Some emphasized the need for offices and hobby rooms. Several, with toddlers in tow, painted a picture of close-knit extended families as the wave of the future, with grandparents and grown children living together in one house. Other homeowner groups — including the Allied Neighborhood and La Mesa Neighborhood associations — supported size limits. The NPO committee will discuss the ordinance again on March 10, and is scheduled to submit it to the Planning Commission, Historic Landmarks Committee, and Architectural Board of Review in April.

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