Looking ahead to the upcoming workshop, the Planning and Codes staff have had several citizens and Commissioners ask questions about the proposed R6 Zoning District. Here are some of those questions and answers. Some of the answers are conversational as they were in response to a particular person. Please keep in mind that this proposed district is not related to any specific property or any specific part of town. Should the Commission and Council pass such an ordinance, a property owner would then have to petition to have their property rezoned as R6. The rezoning process would include at least 4 opportunities for public input.
One of the rationales, probably the main one, for the R6 proposal seems to be its potential link to providing “affordable” housing. Is this an accurate assessment?
This proposal isn't driven exclusively by workforce housing. Workforce housing and affordable housing are a part of this. Making room to grow our middle and upper income households is also a part of this. Workforce housing policies focus on providing attractive and affordable homes for middle-income service workers—such as police officers, teachers, and nurses—in close proximity to their jobs. In contrast, the term affordable housing is generally used for households whose income is less than 60 percent of AMI (Area Median Income).
The Comprehensive Plan (Objectives VI.4.1 VI.4.2, and VI.4.3, pages VI-58 and 59) lists several strategies for providing affordable housing. Have any of the strategies been implemented and if so were they effective?
Of the nine strategies specific to affordable housing only two that I know of have been implemented: working with Habitat for Humanity and working with developers to master plan tracts of land offering a range of price points. Both have been effective.
The Comprehensive Plan states that one strategy to meet the goal to preserve, protect, and enhance the character of existing single-family neighborhoods is that transportation, environmental, and economic impact statements be provided as part of any rezoning application that results in more intense range of land issues. That was not done for the Hunter Avenue property and was not required since the Plan is not a legally enforceable document. So, what is the implementation process through which the strategies proposed in the plan can become enforceable? The Comprehensive Plan is often provided as the justification for why something should be done but it is unclear what that actually means.
State law requires the City to develop a Comprehensive Plan. The recommendations of the Planning Commission are supposed to be supported by or be in support of the Comp Plan. If not, a very good rationale should be provided in explanation. So, the Comp Plan is indeed justification for why something should be done. However, Council would have to formally adopt the Comp Plan as an enforceable code in order to change “should” to “shall.” A Comp Plan accountability plan was proposed to Council in February, and it came up again in our joint planning sessions in April. It was presented to Council again on August 17th and a committee is being formed. The accountability plan will include the Planning Commission.
This is a big change for any community, one that can set into motion the eventual demise of the R-12 and R-20 neighborhoods as we know them today. Is that a bad thing?
The fact that some of our R20 and R12 neighborhoods may change is not necessarily a bad thing. Some will stay the same. Some will welcome a few more homes. Some will welcome a lot more homes. But I have a hard time seeing a cloche being put over the town and nothing changing.
One of the R-6 goals is to “promote a wide range of housing options.” Could you please share your understanding of what that range will be in terms of size/square footage, type, price range affordability?
There likely will be building sizes ranging from 500 square feet (tiny homes) to 5000 square feet (coaches homes). There will likely be all types of building materials and all types of architectural styles. There will likely be lot sizes ranging from 4000 square feet to 5 acres just as they do today. As for price range, if the lot sizes get small enough and building footprints are kept small enough, there may be move-in ready homes in the $125K - $150K range - which is the desired range cited in the housing survey. At the other end of the spectrum the sky is the limit. If the City wants to assist in low-income housing, we will have to find a way to subsidize.
Another goal is to "maximize utilization of developable land”. This includes both improved (existing homes) as well as unimproved (vacant) land. Could you please share the community need/imperative to apply this to already developed properties rather than just vacant properties?
There is a clear and pent up need for more non-student housing in Clemson. A lot of Clemson homes are getting old. A lot of areas are in disrepair. If the City restricts “growth” to only vacant land, we have removed some of the incentive to improve derelict properties, and we have limited the opportunity to welcome new citizens into established and well-kept neighborhoods. Due to the economics of the situation, in almost all cases, vacant land will be more desirable. This is due to the fact that if you are purchasing land with homes built on it, then you are purchasing the land and the home then turning around and demolishing the home. So, there will be added cost in the value of the existing structure and the cost of removal. Vacant land has neither of those costs.
A third goal is that development will be “harmonious with traditional neighborhoods”. Could you please share what zoning/land use tools will be used to meet that goal in terms of how “harmonious" and “traditional” are determined/defined given the variability among Clemson neighborhoods?
It would have nothing to do with architecture, that’s for sure. The City is too eclectic to develop a single architectural “standard.” By having similar lot widths and identical heights and setbacks, the pattern language would be consistent. The proposed R6 does this. We could explore the idea of increasing lot widths in R6 in circumstances where the proposed R6 is across the street from either R20 or R12. Other than that the only real difference would be smaller houses (most likely) and a few more of them. The lot width of 60ft is going to be much more of a limiting factor than the square footage of the lots.
How will increased citizen participation be utilized in all community land use decisions?
Citizen input is essential. That element is in place and has existed since 1972. No rezoning or ordinance change or new development can be implemented without the public having at least four opportunities to speak out on the matter. The key is helping the public stay engaged – and to engage them at the right time while their input can actually shape the outcome. Staff is open to any and all ideas to improve the ways that citizens can participate.
Community input enhancements imply that neighbors will have a much larger say in the decision making process with R-6 than other zoning changes. Does the enhanced process actually mean neighbors have a bigger say in the approval/denial process?
That may or may not be true. Experience indicates that if we require unanimous approval from an entire neighborhood for anything then you may as well say “it” – whatever “it” is - is not allowed. Perhaps a way exists to more heavily weigh input from the neighbors. But, as it stands, ultimately these decisions are relegated to the Planning Commission and Council. They are the officials elected and appointed to make such decisions on behalf of the citizens after examining all the options and hearing citizen concerns. If their decision-making is no longer the model we want to use, the City could dispense of one or both bodies, have staff present a proposal to the public, ask for a show of hands in the audience, and then act accordingly. I’m not sure what other options exist, but I am open to exploring a third way of doing things. One challenge with the “show of hands’ scenario is that there would be an increased risk of decisions being made based more on emotions or personal interest and less on a firm understanding of the law, the Zoning Ordinance, the Comp Plan, planning and design theory, and, perhaps, the common good. We have a lot of well-informed citizens, but we have a lot who are new to the process as well. The issue of input is, indeed, a challenge.
What information could neighbors present to Planning Commission and/or Council that would allow denial of a proposed R-6 development that met all the established criteria for an R-6?
See answer to previous question. Also, there is nothing stopping an individual property owner or an entire neighborhood from getting together and agreeing to put a deed restriction on their land which disallows subdivision. This is an option for protection that exists today without any approval required from the Planning Commission or Council or others in the neighborhood. So, any individual reading this could go to Pickens County today and record a deed restriction that prohibited their land from ever being subdivided into 6000 square foot lots. Nothing is stopping that, and no City approvals are required. In fact, any neighborhood worried about such a change could all go to Pickens en masse and file deed restrictions at the same time and their individual property and entire neighborhood would be forever prevented from being zoned R6.
Would neighbor influence be based on number and/or percentage within a certain radius that approved or disapproved of a proposed R-6 development?
See answers to previous two questions.
Would contiguous neighbors have more influence than those nearby?
If the decision is made that we want to let neighbors decide what happens to a property owner’s land then I would think contiguous neighbors would have the greatest influence.
Council could vote to deny a R-6 development proposal that met all the established criteria based on their perception of how well the R-6 development fit with the rhythm and/or other characteristics of the neighborhood. In a court challenge of a denial, their decisions would stand as neither an arbitrary or capricious application of zoning. Could you please share how SC law gives us that assurance? Council has repeatedly stated they were helpless to deny a rezoning request because it met all the criteria. How would the R-6 proposal give them the power they have not said they had in past and recent cases?
I have never once heard Council or the BAR or the Planning Commission say they were helpless in denying a rezoning because it met all the criteria. That is one area in which the State has rightfully assumed the City knows best. What you may have heard is that a building, or an architectural feature, or a specific use is hard to legally deny when it meets the requirements. But applying district standards is a horse of a different color compared to rezoning. The standards or criteria for rezoning allow for (and actually imbed) nuances that would be all but impossible to put into words in a one-size fits all ordinance. The Planning Commission and Council have both voted to deny rezoning and annexations for intangible reasons. This concept has been vetted by the City Attorney. The recent denial of the Hunter Avenue rezoning is a perfect example. The denial of the annexation of the Goodman property as RM3 is another. The bottom line is that there are no specific guidelines which prescribe the criteria by which a rezoning request is approved, so it is all but impossible to hold Council liable to a standard that doesn’t exist.
Could you please share how the 2 acre minimum was decided as well as the defining characteristics/conditions of that 2 acre minimum?
Section 19-206 of the Zoning Ordinance requires that any new zoning district be a minimum of 2 acres. Beyond that, staff looked at average lot sizes throughout the City. We looked at the minimum lot size in which an R6 development could be effectively applied. Two acres is the minimum required in order to do a Planned Development. And we looked at the existing patio home development standard of 10 homes per acre with a 1-acre minimum. Collectively staff felt that 2 acres would deter people from parceling up a single but slightly larger than normal lot while 2 full acres would have enough room to create 5 or 6 lots.
- Must the 2 acres be contiguous?
- Would the 2 acres need to be owned by a single owner?
- If a single owner has 2 acres of lots that are “interrupted” by existing roads, would those lots meet the 2 acre minimum for purposes of R-6 development?
- If the 2 acres is an “island” in an R-20 or R-12 neighborhood, does that qualify for R-6 development?
How do we ensure that R-6 development projects truly serve the target market some realtors tell us are currently underserved (given the unique college town market pressures of football housing, parent home purchases for their student children, rentals, etc.) as significant segments of R-6 development will be highly desirable to that “part-time” resident market too?
There are no guarantees. Market value and land costs are going to make those decisions. There is nothing to stop a wealthy alumnus from purchasing a $850K home in an established neighborhood and only use it for game weekends (and not rent it out to others at all). That has and will continue to occur. There is nothing to stop a person from purchasing a $500K home in an established neighborhood and use it for game weekends and also rent it out to others. That has and will continue to occur. There is nothing to stop a person from building a $250K home in an established neighborhood and renting it to 2 students. (Though I’ve never heard of that happening, probably because the note and expenses on such a home would cost a property owner much more than it would earn in rental income.)
How do R-6 development requirements interface with existing subdivision regulations?
Any subdivision of 5 lots or more has a specific set of criteria which an R6 development would have to adhere to. One idea might be to apply similar criteria to R6 developments of 3 or more lots. These are covered in the Land Development Regulations.
Could you make available the list and/or map of areas targeted for R-6 development? Including improved/developed areas as well as unimproved/vacant areas?
There is no such list or map and no such targets. This ordinance was not drafted with any particular place in mind. Staff and the Commission and others are aware of vacant and/or underutilized parcels throughout town but there has been no formal survey. It is like the existing RM3.5 Conservation Zone and the Light Industrial Zone. There are standards for each of these zones and plenty of places where they could occur but no one has ever requested to be rezoned to one of those categories.
How will R-20 or R-12 neighborhoods with covenants, those that have provisions that are in conflict with R-6 specifications and/or prohibit subdivision of lots, be affected by the R-6 proposal?
If there are deed restrictions and/or valid covenants in place for a property or neighborhood and these covenants require lot sizes to be greater than 6000 square feet, then R6 would not be allowed.
In what ways will this R-6 proposal affect/shape/change/reshape our existing residential R-12 and 20 neighborhoods 5, 10, or even 20 years into the future? What are the projected outcomes (good, bad and/or in-between) for:
—low income neighborhoods?
This could bode well, and every situation will be unique. For instance, if a property owner has a 75-year old house on a 3/4 acre lot and can parcel their land with two of their neighbors, create 6 lots, then each sell off a lot, then they can use that money to make home improvements and/or have their taxes and insurance covered for decades. Another scenario could be that developers buy out land owners willing to sell and then build all new housing. This would only serve to drive up the value of the remaining property owners. Since no one would be selling unless they wanted to, it is hard to see a downside to these scenarios.
—moderate/middle income neighborhoods?
This area may be most attractive for R6. Land (and existing home) costs may be attractive enough for a person to purchase four or five homes, demolish everything there, then build six or eight new homes. As evidenced by the extraordinary success of Patrick Square, the trend is towards modest sized homes (1600-1800 square feet) on small lots (Average of 6000 square foot with a 60ft lot width). The challenge is a Patrick Square style development is only possible in Clemson if you a) have a Planned Development which requires a commercial component that is not always practical or necessary or b) do a patio home development which is only allowed in RM1 and RM2. The problem with RM1 and RM2 is they also allow for duplexes, townhomes, and mobile homes. The proposed R6 would only allow single family homes. So, it would look like Patrick Square. Going back to an earlier discussion about vacant land versus developed land, there is more undeveloped land in our middle-income neighborhood than our high end neighborhoods. And, if one was to purchase a cluster of homes in a high-end neighborhood the land and home costs combined may be too much to reclaim in an R6 style development. However, that is the trend, and, for some people, their street address matters a great deal. The end result may be very expensive homes on smaller lots.
The obvious fear expressed by some in the community is that developers will purchase land in established neighborhoods and build cheap student housing and rent the properties out. This is always a possibility but land costs will not make it likely. There has also been concern expressed about changing the character of a neighborhood by adding 6 or 8 homes where there once were only 4 or 5 homes. That is a distinct possibility. From the street, the R6 zoning as proposed would not look much different from most of our existing neighborhoods.
—high end neighborhoods?
Outcomes for high end neighborhoods would likely resemble the outcomes for moderate/middle income neighborhoods.