To planning commission member Ellen Mavrich, it’s simple: Have Oberlin change the way it measures properties to encourage small, single-family home construction.
Unlike most surrounding communities and the Lorain County auditor’s office, Oberlin measures square footage from the interior, rather than exterior, of homes. Mavrich said at a commission meeting Sept. 21 that measuring from the inside is “antiquated” because more homes are being built wider due to outside insulation.
“There’s no change to square footage requirements,” she told commission members, “The change is to how it is calculated.”
The minimum ground floor size for a single-family home varies by zoning designation. It is 720-square-feet in residential neighborhoods zoned R-1 or R-2. In neighborhoods designated R-1A, the minimum is 1,200-square-feet.
In R-1B neighborhoods, and conservation development districts, it is 1,000-square-feet. In planned development districts, commission members determine the minimum.
Mavrich said inside measurements sometimes force builders to seek approval from the zoning board of appeals and variances are difficult to get. “At the same time that we say that we want people to build small, sustainable homes, our code does not allow for that,” Mavrich said.
Mavrich is frustrated that city council members haven’t acted on a commission recommendation in July to measure from the outside. She said planning and development director Carrie Handy didn’t provide council members with substantiating information Mavrich requested they get to make a case for the change. She said council members didn’t completely understand what they were being asked to vote on.
“We need to make sure if we’re putting something in front of council, it makes sense and we’re giving them the right information they need to in order make a decision,” she said. “If not, we’re wasting their time. And we’re wasting our time.”
Councilwoman and commission co-liaison Sharon Soucy, defended Handy.
She said council passed on changing measurements because it involves a larger issue of whether more smaller homes are good for neighborhoods and, if so, which neighborhoods. Soucy said council needs to look at recommendations from a housing study due out in December and hold sessions with residents to get their input before deciding.
“Council is very aware of the permitting process and council is very aware of the function of the zoning board of appeals,” Soucy said. “This idea of changing zoning or moving to smaller houses is a very complex issue. “
Handy said Friday that what commission members proposed was more complicated than what Mavrich said.
She said they wanted to change the definition of “residential floor area.” Instead of just measuring the ground floor, upper floors would be included as well as enclosed porches or greenhouses.
“You could have a very small house with a very large porch,” Handy said. “Is that something we want?”
Handy said the change could lead to small houses being built in neighborhoods with far bigger houses and some existing residents might object to them.
“I don’t know what they might say,” she said. “But that would be a concern. How does that affect the rest of the neighborhood?”
However, commission vice chairman Peter Crowley said at the meeting that the change isn’t complicated.
“It just makes it a whole lot easier for people to calculate when they’re building a house,” he said. “They know what their outside footprint is. They don’t always know what the inside is going to be and you can’t measure it until it’s done.”
Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.