The following was originally published in my November 13, 2021 Newsletter in the "Additional Thoughts" section.
On this week’s agenda, I am especially familiar with agenda items C-1 (Mill Creek at Chelsea Circle) and DB-1 (Grace Bible Church) because both site plans were reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), where I serve as a Council liaison. Both of these properties petitioned the ZBA for relief from the City’s electric vehicle parking requirements. Since the City adopted the electric vehicle (EV) ordinance, the ZBA has heard several petitions requesting relief.
City Council unanimously adopted the EV ordinance on January 19, 2021:
This ordinance requires the installation of infrastructure for electric vehicle parking whenever a site plan is approved by City Council. The amount of EV parking that must be installed is calculated as a percentage of the total amount of required (minimum) on-site parking.
C-1 (21-1794) An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 55 (Unified Development Code), Zoning of 32.6 Acres from R3 (Townhouse Dwelling) to R4B (Multiple-Family Dwelling), Mill Creek Townhomes Rezoning, 3002 Chelsea Circle, (CPC Recommendation: Approval - 8 Yeas and 0 Nays)
In agenda item C-1, Council will vote on first reading of rezoning for Mill Creek Town Homes. That rezoning will allow growth in an existing development: infill of apartment buildings at a location where housing is somewhat less expensive relative to other parts of the City. At a future meeting, City Council will approve the site plan for this development. The ZBA has already seen the site plan, because Mill Creek petitioned for relief from the EV ordinance.
In their petition to the ZBA, the owners of Mill Creek pointed out the cost of compliance with the EV ordinance. The existing Mill Creek development is quite large (281 units) and the infill addition triggers EV parking requirements calculated relative to the whole of the development: 575 spaces. For Mill Creek, the cost of compliance with the ordinance was particularly extreme, given how many existing parking spaces would have to be ripped up in order to retro-fit EV infrastructure. The property owner proposed the installation of EV infrastructure in every newly created parking space (104). That number obviously did not meet the ordinance standard (based on the whole of the development). However, that number exceeded ordinance requirements when calculated as a percentage of required parking in the addition alone. The ZBA granted the variance.
PH-3/DB-1 (21-1827) Resolution to Approve Grace Bible Church Site Plan, 1300 South Maple Road (CPC Recommendation: Approval - 9 Yeas and 0 Nays)
Agenda item DB-1 is a site plan for expansion of Grace Bible Church . This property, also, was considered by the ZBA for relief from the EV ordinance. In their petition, they argued that the average distance travelled to their church was very short (well within a charging range), the average time spent there was very short (not long enough to collect significant electric charge), and implementation of the ordinance would add significant cost to their project. The ordinance required the installation of 80 EV parking spaces; the church proposed installation of ten. The ZBA did not approve a variance for Grace Bible Church, at least partially because the ordinance requirements could be wholly met within the new parking lot on their site plan (107 spaces). Some of us reasoned: if this infrastructure isn’t installed now, it will only be more difficult to install later.
The ZBA has asked for guidance from staff and the City Planning Commission regarding the EV ordinance. We have asked for insight about where and when a variance should be granted. Given the cost of building this infrastructure, the ZBA is likely to hear many more petitions in the future. The ZBA has debated questions like these:
Is there a difference between long-term parking (e.g. residential and workplace) and short-term parking (churches, school drop off areas)? Should they be treated differently?
When requirements are calculated on the whole of a development, is that a disincentive for helpful infill/expansions of new housing?
When an addition does not include any parking, is it overly burdensome to ask people to tear out existing lots and retrofit these spaces?
The rulings of the ZBA are not subject to additional review by Council, so it's especially important that we approach these questions thoughtfully. I look forward to more discussion about how the ZBA should be reviewing petitions related to this ordinance; we must apply standards that are consistent and meet the goals of sustainability and affordable housing.