By Katta Hules
The Arcadia City Council did not authorize an economic impact study on the proposed changes to the single-family residential zoning regulations. The decision came after over two hours of heated debate including statements from over 30 residents and discussion between the Council members. “We don’t feel that the economic study will get the results that are desired,” said Jason Kruckeberg, Assistant City Manager/ Development Services Director. “We do feel that additional discussion is needed.”
To that end, Council Member Mickey Segal proposed an all-day community workshop to help work out the issues the community had with the zoning changes and fix any misconceptions. He pointed out all the council members were property owners. “We don’t have any vested different interest than anybody sitting out there, our property’s affected just the same way their property’s affected.”
Arcadia is one of the few cities in its area without a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) regulation, according to Mayor Gary Kovacic. The American Planning Association defines FAR as floor area divided by lot area, on its website. “A floor area ratio of 1.0 means that floor area may equal lot area. FAR 5.0 means that the floor area may be up to five times as large as the lot area; and FAR 0.5 that it may be no more than half the lot area.” Mayor Kovacic pointed out the only other cities without FAR regulations in the area were Baldwin Park and Duarte. “While those are perfectly nice cities…I wouldn’t say that’s the company Arcadia usually keeps when looking at property values.”
Arcadia has been working on updating the Zoning Code since 2014, according to the most recent City Staff report on the subject. The project was initiated in the latter half of that year and community meetings were held with residents and commercial stakeholders in the following January and February.
In May, a lawsuit over two previously approved houses stalled the residential arm of the code update until it was settled in October. The update started up again with “an intensive review process.” A citizen’s committee was formed to “obtain a wide range of input and ideas,” and evaluate the standards alongside the Staff. Additionally, efforts were made to clear up confusion about the process and code requirements including community meetings and newsletters.
However, residents are still both confused and outraged as evidenced by the packed Council Chamber and many speakers. Those against the zoning changes had reasons ranging from worries that the drop in property taxes would cut funding to the schools to wanting the right to build a home big enough to house extended or young families. Some even brought signatures from their neighbors opposing changes in the code. Thirty year resident Winston Chu disputed that the new houses were not a problem for neighborhoods, contending they made the area more “upscale” and brought a “breath of fresh air” to the city.
Those for the zoning changes like former Council Member, Mayor, and current City Council candidate Peter Ahmundson, said people felt like they had lost their privacy and “quality of life” to the new taller houses. “This has been festering for 20 years now,” Admundson said, urging the Council to start “the healing process.”
The city’s efforts to update the zoning codes are not alone. A group called Saving Arcadia has gotten 3,000 signatures on a ballot initiative to limit building plans considerably including how much of the lot a house can take up, how tall it can be, and how big the basement is. The group is “dedicated to preserving the property values of our homes by adopting new residential building codes.” In the proposed initiative, square footage would be limited to “maximum gross floor area of 35% of lot square footage for lots up to 10,000 square feet, plus an additional 15% of the lot square footage over 10,000 square feet, plus an additional 5% of the gross square footage calculated on the lot square footage for a dwelling unit that is single story,” according to Saving Arcadia’s website.
Council Member Roger Chandler called the limitations “draconian.” But, should it get verified, he said, the Council would be able to put it on the ballot anytime between this fall and April 2018, so there was no reason to rush the city’s efforts to update the Zoning Code.
The next City Council Meeting will take place on April 5th at 7 p.m. The community workshop is tentatively scheduled for March 24th at 9 a.m. in the City Council Chambers.