|R-1 and R-1A is bad for the city.|
The Re: Zoning process, which is attempting to bring the city's 1950's zoning code up to date, should be a major focus of interest for anyone interested in biking, walking, transit, or affordable housing. As we've pointed out with parking minimums and maximums, the Re: Zoning process is taking very tepid steps towards fixing the zoning code, but isn't going far enough. Another area where it needs improvement is in allowing more mixed-income development.
The new zoning code introduces a new category, R-1A, making a subcategory to an already troublesome R-1 zone. R-1 means "single family housing", and R-1A refers to subcategories of that which are on very large parcels of land. People under an R-1 designation cannot develop apartments and can't build multifamily housing. Under R-1A the designation goes even further, not allowing subdivision of larger mansion plots to build other homes within them.
Zoning an area for only single family housing is problematic. Remember that zoning an area to allow something other than single family housing does not mean that people are required to knock their houses down and build apartments. What it means is that if people choose to make such a transaction, they can. And zoning can be fine tuned to require things that we do like about our neighborhood (trees, walkable streets, good building materials, etc.) without having to throw the baby out with the bath water. Stated simply R-1 and R-1A are overly broad, and they capture way too much of the neighborhood without allowing any innovation in housing.
(Above) An un-zoned development in Washington DC was seen as disorderly to
the creators of zoning, while (Below) the 1931 strip mall--one of the first in the
US--was seen as an orderly use of zoning. (Greater Greater Washington)
The main reason that zoning codes like this were developed was to keep out working class people, and sometimes to codify racial distinctions. Around the turn of the last century, a movement was afoot to make every neighborhood of a certain "type". Besides creating segregation--literally a zoning code creates "segregation of uses" but you can also read segregation of class and race into that--the zoning code also harmed the natural life-cycle that people have with housing. For instance, when my grandparents got married, they moved into a small one bedroom apartment, saved their money, and eventually got a loan for a house nearby. As they've gotten older, their twin house allowed them to invite my uncle to live next to them when the previous owner decided to move, and that's helping them through a lot of aging issues. A neighborhood that only has single-family houses in it does not have the option to start out in an apartment, gradually expand to have children, and then downsize in old age. And that's one of the struggles of this strange car life we live in: many people's grandparents just have to go into a home when they can't take care of a house anymore.
This is what R-1 and R-1A mean.
When we limit the growth of smaller homes, multifamily homes, apartments, and other non-single family uses, and especially when we don't even allow the subdivision of mansion plots for other single family homes, we're consciously limiting the potential for our tax base to grow, making housing more expensive, and encouraging that green field development will happen in what might have been a forest or farm somewhere else. It's time to get rid of the R-1 and R-1A categories entirely.