Proposed zoning code change would restrict ‘McMansions’

CITY HALL - City Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) has proposed changing the city's zoning code to discourage the recent trend of super-sized infill housing in Southwest neighborhoods.

With Southwest land prices escalating, numerous homeowners and developers are tearing down existing houses and replacing them with what some call &#8220McMansions.”

The construction has drawn the ire of some residents and neighborhood groups, who criticize that the structures don't fit the character of the area, but builders have concerns about regulating size.

&#8220Generally speaking, what I'm looking at addressing is the bulk and size of structures using a maximum-floor-area ratio,” Hodges said.

That means the total floor space in a new home would be restricted based on how big a lot it sits on. Other topics up for discussion: building height, setbacks, and the definition of stories and basements.

&#8220There'll be a lot of technical talk about what this means,” Hodges said.

The council member hasn't introduced specific language, but her Jan. 12 motion instructed the Council's Zoning and Planning Committee to begin talking about possible changes.

John Finlayson, president of the Fulton Neighborhood Association, said Hodges' infill housing ideas sound positive and could help mitigate the area's housing issues.

&#8220I know it's something that an awful lot of residents in Southwest want,” Finlayson said. &#8220I don't want to kill redevelopment, but on the other hand, a lot of people are tired of looking up at their neighbors.”

Maximum-floor-area ratios have been used for a long time to regulate commercial development, and it could be great if it worked to apply them to residential building as well, Finlayson said.

One challenge Hodges foresees: crafting specific enough language so that the new zoning code solves Southwest's problem without hurting other areas of the city wherein infill housing might be welcomed.

Shane Walgamuth, owner of Shane Homes in Southwest, said he has concerns about the city restricting the size of homes, which will make building them more challenging. Sellers will get less for their property, and buyers will pay even more per square foot than they already do, he predicted.

&#8220There's always a middle ground,” said Walgamuth, who isn't a stranger to the issue of infill housing. He admits his first home in the area was &#8220a monster” that rightfully upset neighbors.

&#8220Now, when I build, I try to be sensitive to the neighborhood,” he said. &#8220When I build a new house, the ultimate compliment is that this house doesn't look new. It looks like it's always been here.”

Reach Dan Haugen at 436-5088 or [email protected]