California Election Results Reverse Trend on Growth

It's no surprise when voters in the college town of Davis, California, say no to a housing development. But it is a surprise when Modesto says "whoa" to growth, and when development-averse Santa Barbara and Ventura reject new controls.

In voting on local land use ballot measures, slow-growth advocates claimed major victories in Davis and in Mendocino County, where shopping center developer DDR spent heavily to pass its own initiative. They also won in Modesto when voters rejected proposals to extend sewer service to 3,000 acres of farm fields.

Meanwhile, slow-growth advocates suffered unusual setbacks in Santa Barbara and Ventura, coastal cities with a history of voters controlling development. In both cities, the electorate said no to strict height limitation initiatives.

Full Story: Election Results: Slow Growthers Win In Davis, Mendocino County



Height Limitation does not equal slow growth

That's great that slow-growth advocates won in Davis and Modesto- but I disagree that the ballot "losses" in Santa Barbara and Ventura are really losses. While I am certain that slow-growth advocates would not like to see skyscrapers built in their beautiful cities, adding reasonable height to projects is crucial to promoting density & walkability. Adding height, when adequate urban design, walkability, site, material selection, and other issues are addressed, reduce land consumption. Simple as that. While height SHOULD be addressed, reasonable height should be promoted while taking these other elements into serious consideration.

Here in Madison, WI, the "slow-growth" community has been divided by a number of projects, some arguing that mixed-use buildings along some busy neighborhood arteries should be 3 stories instead of 4; or 4 stories instead of 5. Their argument is neighborhood character and traffic - both very much valid concerns. However, it can be shown that having upper floors stepped back, using high-quality exterior materials, and other design aspects address these concerns. Since these areas are already along popular bus lines and located in up-and-coming pedestrian/density nodes, the additional density should be welcome. The additional story adds a number of housing units, which drives increased business to nearby establishments and increasing the tax base. Otherwise, each additional housing unit may consume anywhere from 1/4 to 4+ acres on the periphery - really causing traffic.

Defeat of Measure B in Santa Barbara not a loss for slow growth

The defeat of Measure B in Santa Barbara should not be construed as a defeat for slow-growthers as its defeat leaves in place a bylaw that allows buildings only up to 60 feet in height in the city's downtown. Measure B would have reduced that to 40 feet which many in the community felt was dracionian. I think that SB's community character will still be well protected with a 60 feet height restriction in place. How many cities restrict building heights to 60 feet?

Restricting height and scale

I generally strongly support height restrictions to maintain community character, human scaled aesthetics, and to maintain a view of the skyline. Determining what the height should be will vary from town to town. It is a site specific decision.

While restrictions such as 3 stories might sound quite limiting, they are entirely appropriate in a district where all of the other buildings are a maximum of 3 stories. Placing a boxy modern 5 story building among 1 to 3 story colonial style buildings, as happened in one small town's historic discrict, detracts from the overall look and feel of the community.

People's concerns about height and scale need to be respected as opposed to letting the builder call the shots.

I do respect that it is to

I do respect that it is to each community and neighborhood to determine what is an appropriate height for buildings. I was not making a blanket statement that restricting height is a bad thing. As I mentioned in my response, building character is at least as important as is height. If the entire neighborhood is 3 story historic buildings, then it stands to reason that 3 stories should be the standard, no more, no less.

Additionally, having an appropriate Design Commission, Architectural Review Board, or whatever it would be called, to review each building permit would be far more effective (when combined with appropriate form-based zoning code) to maintain neighborhood character than would a single line in the code restricting height. Height is but one element of building design that is often over-emphasized and thus shadowing equally important aspects of design - which leads to the "rectangle box" buildings. In places where such a commission/review board, with proper authority, exists than builders do not and cannot dominate the development process.

Point well taken

Jacksfb, your point is well taken. I didn't mean to imply you didn't have respect for height/scale concerns, I was just expressing my opinion on the matter.

Yes, having a design commission and arch. review board etc. is critical.

In the example here where a boxy 5 story building was placed in a historic district of 3 story buildings, there had been an existing historic commission and arch. review board. I was told that there were no height limits and that is how the builder managed to erect a 5 story building. So it seems having the language in your ordinance is revelant.


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