It was standing room only Monday night as more than 100 residents packed into the Montana library community room to tell city planners that their planning process is flawed and their neighborhood is being treated unfairly.
For months Northeast Neighbors had been protesting the significant increases in building heights and densities proposed for Wilshire Boulevard in the draft zoning ordinance update by City Hall’s Planning Department.
Last Monday evening residents asked City Planner Jory Phillips, who is in charge of the zoning update, why he recommended reducing the maximum building heights and densities for commercial streets in some neighborhoods while he was leaving the maximum allowed for Wilshire Boulevard. His response: “We didn’t have a compelling reason to do it for your area.”
A frustrated resident pointed to the overflow crowd and asked, “This isn’t compelling enough? What does it take to compel you to listen to us?”
Adding insult to injury, Monday night Phillips also confirmed that he was recommending the new zoning ordinance eliminate an existing code requirement for future commercial developments called the “sliding floor area ratio (FAR) scale.” This code requirement prevents large, boxy buildings by reducing the volume of the building that can be built as the parcel size increases.
When asked why he planned to drop this requirement for new commercial development, Phillips would only say that the Planning Commission had already approved the elimination of the requirement, which allows more light and air to penetrate to lower levels of the street for pedestrians and for adjacent residential housing.
The community needs to understand that if the City Council approves eliminating this important condition from the new zoning ordinance, we will be losing an important tool for the consistent control of scale of new developments throughout our city. Without the sliding FAR scale we can expect bigger and bulkier development built on larger lots everywhere on most of our major thoroughfares.
Residents should insist that council keep the sliding FAR scale mechanism for new developments on all neighborhood adjacent boulevards. There are many reasons to keep the new zoning ordinance consistent and not single out some streets for exemptions and special treatment because planners just feel like it.