Lowering Boom on Building Heights

Opponents of taller buildings filed legal papers with City Hall declaring the intention to begin collecting signatures to qualify a ballot measure that would reduce the maximum building height limit from its current maximum of 60-40 feet downtown and 45 feet elsewhere throughout the city. To qualify for the ballot this November, building height activist group Save El Pueblo must collect roughly 6,200 signatures by June. Talk of such an initiative has been simmering for more than a year, accompanying the rise of four-story structures along Chapala Street and elsewhere in the city. Leading the charge on behalf of the more stringent height limits is Bill Mahan, an architect and former city planning commissioner who voted in favor of some of the structures he now criticizes.

Mahan, who has said he lacked the regulatory tools required to oppose such proposals, warned that that downtown’s unique historic character is at risk of being overwhelmed by the onslaught of newer four-story structures. While his plans have found favor with traditional slow-growth organizations like the League of Women Voters and Citizens Planning Association, it will be bitterly fought by many architects and affordable housing advocates who contend the proposed height restrictions will make it all but economically impossible to build anything but market-rate housing. City councilmembers Grant House and Das Williams have expressed serious concern about the idea, but new Councilmember Dale Francisco endorsed the idea in concept-but not specifics-during his campaign.

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