Sacramento City Council votes to overhaul zoning code

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2013 - 7:55 am

For anyone planning to build a residential project or business in Sacramento, maneuvering through the city's complicated zoning code has been a daunting task for years. City officials said they took a major step Tuesday night toward making that process a little easier.

By a 7-1 vote, the City Council voted to do away with pages of fees and restrictions in the zoning code, the first significant overhaul of the code in more than 50 years.

One of the most controversial changes made was to eliminate a provision in the code that allowed council members to demand full council hearings on projects in their districts, no matter how small those projects might have been.

Council call-ups are relatively rare – Councilman Steve Cohn said he had called just one project to council in 18 years and could remember only "a handful" of those cases over the past decade.

But, he said, the provision did "create an uncertainty or a lack of finality when you think you've gone through a process and you still have to worry about one more level (of scrutiny)."

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby voted against the change. She argued that getting rid of the council review was "a degradation in our abilities to speak for our constituents."

"I think the reason we are here is to represent our constituency, and I want to make sure the policies we adopt don't degrade our ability to do that," she said.

The shift away from council call-ups is part of a broader city strategy to streamline the permitting process for a wide range of activities, from housing developments to solar projects.

The new code – renamed the Planning and Development Code – will encourage infill development in the city's urban areas, said Tom Pace, a long-range planning manager with the city. Pace said the new code includes more "mixed-use" zones in the city, where residential and commercial projects can be built together, as well as fewer height restrictions on new buildings.

City officials said the new code also would cut down on the red tape that developers will confront as they seek approval on projects.

The code reduced the number of special land-use regulations from 90 to 32 and cut down on the amount of review that will be required for developments.

"This has been a long time coming," said Councilman Darrell Fong, who with Councilman Jay Schenirer was a chief advocate of the changes.

Joshua Wood, executive director of Region Builders, a building industry advocacy group, said the new code "is clear, it's consistent, it's simple."

"There's always talk about 'incentivizing' infill development in our city, but this is actually putting those words into action," he said.

Planners and architects also lauded the changes.

"It feels like Sacramento is becoming a proactive and exciting and interesting place to do work," said Ron Vrilakas, an architect and developer who has led several projects in the city's urban core.

Call The Bee's Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_lillis.

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