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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