Planning Staff Studying Requests From Homebuilders On Ways To Reduce The Cost Of Building New Homes

Tuesday, April 13, 2021 - by Gail Perry

The Planning Commission on Monday discussed ways for homebuilders to reduce the cost of new houses and make more efficient use of land as requested by Doug Fisher, executive officer of the Chattanooga Homebuilders Association.


The Regional Planning Agency staff has been reviewing some regulations in connection with the request.


RPA Director Bryan Schults gave the purpose of zoning and subdivision regulation as providing “implementation tools”  for adequate roads and pubic services, for public safety, for consideration of the needs of existing and future residents and to regulate development intensity to minimize potential conflicts between incompatible land uses.

He noted that reducing lot sizes may increase density of housing, but said it does not guarantee that the new housing would be built at a price point that meets the definition of affordable housing. But he said it would increase the supply of housing, which has the effect of mitigating annual price increases. Reducing road widths and having smaller lot sizes and setbacks is one way to create efficiency, he said.


Requests from the homebuilders were divided into three categories: Infrastructure, Flag lots and Zoning.


Infrastructure issues were further divided into three categories.


The request: is to reduce pavement width from 26 to 22 feet. The current 26 feet width is in the International Fire code. That size accommodates fire and emergency vehicles, and the RPA does not support a reduction, but to reduce costs would support an option for a street without a concrete curb and inlets for a storm sewer system.


The request: is to reduce pavement width on short cul-de-sacs from 22 to 20 feet and the length from 10 lots to 40 feet or less.


The request: is to reduce requirement to build sidewalks from a minimum width of five feet to four feet. Staff recommends the five-foot width in order to comply with TDOT and ADA requirements. It was noted that the sidewalk regulations pertain to those built on Right-of Ways, so a suggestion was for RPA to reduce the R-O-W and build the sidewalks outside of it.


Flag Lots ( typically a rectangular lot at the end of a long driveway, which may lie behind another building or lot.)


The request: To change the minimum lot area from  one acre to one quarter acre. Staff suggests reduction of the size only in new major subdivisions.


The request: To reduce the minimum flag lot frontage from 25 feet to 15 feet. Concerns by staff include problems for emergency equipment to access the building on that lot. Staff suggests reduction of the driveway widths only in a new, major subdivision because they are part of an overall planned development that will be reviewed including by the Emergency Management Agency.


The request: To make flag lot setbacks the same as the underlying zone. This could be supported only for the lot in a new major subdivision that  will be part of a planned development which will be reviewed.


The request: to remove the variance requirement restricting the number of flag lots to two in a major subdivision. Staff recommends that there should be limits to this type of lot and supports maintaining the limit of two flag lots.


Zoning – is used in ways to achieve adopted pubic plan polices and goals. Each zoning district represents a distinct grouping of uses, lot area regulations and setbacks that promote a particular type of development.


The request: To modify the existing R-1 zone to reduce minimum lot frontage on sewer and septic from 60 to 45 feet and minimum lot area from 7,500 to 5,000 square feet. These changes represent a reduction of minimum lot size by 33 percent and would be a substantial change in density from the existing R-1. The RPA staff believes it would be better to create another type of single-family residential zone option for small lot single-family detached houses and allowing 5,000 square foot lots. A new zoning choice would be a better option than modifying the existing R-1 zone. This would provide two different single-family options.


The request: To increase the maximum lot occupancy from 35 percent to 55 percent. Staff recommendation is to create a new more urban R-1 zone option with reduced lot sizes, frontages and setbacks. This would be done without the requirement for maximum percentages of the property that the dwelling would occupy. That percentage is 35 percent in the A-1 zone.


The Request: To allow townhouses to be built on any land regardless of distance to a large road. Staff supports the removal of the requirement that eight units must be within 500 feet of a major street.


The Request: To increase A-1 density caps from two units per acre to four units per acre. The RPA recommends maintaining the two unit maximum.


The Request: To revise the septic tank minimum lot size in R-1 to allow septic systems to be dictated by the ground water authority of the county and state government. The recommendation is to  keep the existing language.


Suggestions that were made in response to the requests from the homebuilders will be rewritten by the RPA staff and brought back to the RPA members for more review in June after which a final recommendation will be taken to local governments around July.


Mr. Fisher said he was pleased that the RPA staff recognized the need for updates in today’s housing market. He said that the Homebuilders Association and RPA have found common ground, with only some minor discrepancies.


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