Dumbfounded

Earlier this year City Council considered a proposal to clarify how we specify heights for tall buildings. The UDO was crafted to specify maximum heights using two measures: the number of stories and the height in feet. The argument was that we should remove the cap in feet and simply cap buildings by the number of stories.

Council considered this proposed change by sending it first to the Growth and Natural Resources committee of which I was and continue to be a member. Our concern was that variability in floor height could result in vastly different building heights. For example, a three story structure could vary dramatically in height ranging from 10 feet per story to 15 feet per story (or more). The result could be a structure 30 feet in heigh or one that is 45 feet in height or greater. The heights would be even greater for four and five story buildings. Given that 3, 4, and 5 story buildings are the ones most likely to be constructed adjacent to or in residential areas, Council choose to keep the current caps in feet for those categories of buildings.

For 7 stories and greater, Council did decide to look further at removing the caps in feet. The argument was that those buildings are not likely to be located next to residential areas and the expense of building such tall buildings would provide a natural cap – nobody is going to build an unnecessarily tall 7 story or taller building due to the costs involved.

Thus, Council asked the Planning Commission to consider a text change to remove the cap in feet for buildings that are 7 stories and taller.

In November, the Planning Department reported back that the Planning Commission voted 8-0 to recommend adoption of the proposed text change. As a result Council set a date for the public hearing to be January 7, 2020 – next Tuesday.

Yesterday I reviewed the agenda for the January 7, 2020 City Council meeting. Yes, the public hearing for the text change is on the agenda. But, so too is this note:

On October 9, 2018, in addition to the changes outlined in the draft ordinance, the Planning Commission recommended that the maximum building height for 4 stories be increased from 62 feet to 68 feet and the maximum building height for 5 stories be increased from 75 feet to 80 feet.

This is the first time it has ever been reported to Council that the Planning Commission considered changing the heights of 3, 4, and 5 story buildings. And it is very concerning.

The Planning Commission was not charged with considering such a change. The proposed text change that they were to consider was removing the cap in feet for 7 stories and greater. How did it come to happen that the Planning Commission considered, much less voted on, changing the heights of 3, 4, and 5 story buildings? And, why was this not reported to Council in November? Indeed, the proposed text change does not, in fact, include changing the heights of 3, 4, and 5 story buildings.

So, why was this comment inserted into the agenda for this item? Who put this comment into the agenda? The public hearing on Tuesday was never advertised to the public that Council would be considering changing the heights of 3, 4, and 5 story buildings. Yet, there it is in black-and-white with no notice to the public. Is this a subtle attempt to influence the new Council to increase the heights for 3, 4, and 5 story buildings at the last minute? And, why did the Planning Commission even consider increasing the heights of 3, 4 and 5 story buildings in the first place? It wasn’t their charge.

Stay tuned to how this plays out on Tuesday.

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