The McMansion ordinance will allow neighborhood groups to regulate taste.
The McMansion restrictions can be waived. Since the restrictions are so drastic, there will be lots of property owners who think they need a waiver for one reason or another.
Some of the likely reasons:
Trees. The property has a big tree in an inconvenient place. The owner/developer wants to keep the tree but doesn't want to sacrifice too much square footage. He requests an increase in the setback planes so he can get his allotted square feet without cutting down the tree. (We'll hear this one a lot.)
Unusual natural grade. The property originally had an unusual natural grade. The grade's been leveled and matches the grade of surrounding properties. But because height measurements are taken from the natural grade, the setback planes are "unfairly" low.
Unusual lot shape. There's been little discussion of how the setback planes will work for irregularly shaped lots. Prediction: They won't. Try to imagine setback planes imposed on a triangular lot. (Some irregular lot owners probably will have a good case for a variance.)
The Remodel. The owner wants to add a second story to his house but needs a waiver from the setback planes to do so because of the house's unusual placement on the lot.
To get a waiver, owners will have to go to the new Residential Design and Compatibility Commission (the "RDCC").
The RDCC is to be a commission of the activists, by the activists, and for the activists. The NIMBY ideology is written right into its charter: The litmus test for its nine commissioners is that they "have knowledge of massing, scale and compatibility issues in residential neighborhoods." A candidate presumably can't have knowledge of MS&C issues unless he believes that we have MS&C issues in the first place.
Five of the commissioners will be "residential design professionals." (Does this include anyone other than architects?) Architects who've flouted MS&C principles need not apply, of course. And there's no mystery about who'll fill the non-professional spots.
In case there was any doubt that the Commission will have a broad mandate to stamp out the aesthetically incorrect, the ordinance directs it to consider "consistency with the streetscape of the properties in the vicinity" (i.e., nothing too different) and "compliance with neighborhood design guidelines" (i.e., nothing too ugly).
The ordinance, of course, requires the property's immediate neighbors to be alerted. And the neighborhood association. And the neighborhood planning team. And, by post, anyone casually walking or driving by.
Anyone who's seen enough zoning hearings knows what this will degenerate into. The neighborhoods will use the waiver request to impose their taste. (They will quickly detect how far they can go before the owner decides the costs aren't worth the benefits of the waiver.) These hearings will rarely be about just massing, scale or compatibility. Owners who want a side articulation waiver will be told they should be using wood siding rather than stone, or stone rather than wood, or brick rather than stone. Or they'll be told to get rid of some windows on their proposed second story ("it's too intrusive"). Or they'll be told to add some windows ("it's too monolithic"). We'll hear complaints about roof pitch. Placement of porches. Design of the garage. Any design feature that can cause the slightest annoyance will be fair game. Neighbors can expect a sympathetic audience from the RDCC.
Perhaps I'm too cynical. Maybe the RDCC will be evenhanded, and show genuine concern for owners overburdened by the McMansion ordinance. As a practical matter, NA's have long had the power to extract concessions from developers seeking to rezone property. Sometimes they've struck deals that were good for everyone.
But given the militancy with which they fought for the McMansion ordinance, I'm not optimistic.
Tomorrow: less polemics, more economics.
The Board of Adjustment can grant a variance, but it has relatively strict standards that must be met first, including that the regulation "does not allow for a reasonable use of property." See section 25-2-474(A)(1) of the City's Land Development Code.