Are townhouses in central Bay's future?

Efforts to update Bay's Attached Residence (townhouse) ordinance are currently focused on easing regulations for land abutting retail and commercial districts. Townhouses are already permitted within retail and commercial districts, which include the Dover Center corridor, the corner of Columbia and Eaton Way, and the southeast corner of Clague Parkway. Requirements for other residential areas – which include a 5-acre minimum – will likely stay the same, at least for now.

At their latest meetings, members of the Planning Commission and City Council's Planning Committee expressed the hope that more realistic requirements would encourage new development. Attractive new development, in turn, would reduce neighborhood resistance to townhouses in other areas of the city.

Commission and Committee members agree on some guiding principles. The highest density of buildings and housing should be in retail and commercial districts. Adjacent areas could offer a transition to lower density residential areas, with the lowest density housing at the east and west ends of the city.

New development should blend with the neighborhood. Proposed regulations limit building height and length accordingly. Impermeable surfaces, including roofs and driveways, must be balanced by green space.

The economics are complex. Attached residences require a zoning change that must pass in the precinct as well as the city. Neighbors may be reluctant to vote for rezoning without seeing a specific proposal. Without the rezoning, developers may be reluctant to spend the money to create a model. Ultimately, the invisible hand of the market will dictate what is built – and what sells. The cost of the land, including tearing down any existing housing, is a major factor.

Without an updated Master Plan, which would include a new survey of residents, the purpose of offering attached residence housing is still unclear. Possible goals include increasing population, increasing the tax base, or simply offering a different style of housing. Walkability is a new "green" goal that may attract federal dollars in the future. All are legitimate objectives, but which reflect community values? Which are realistic?

The next meeting of the Planning Committee is April 29 at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall. Revisions to the 1158 Attached Residence ordinance will be given a public hearing before adoption. Stay tuned for new developments!

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Volume 6, Issue 9, Posted 9:50 AM, 04.29.2014