Capitola Council Downsizes New Homes Unhappy with Growing Number of Bigger Homes, Council Adopts New Zoning Ordinances

by Mary Bryant
The Mid-County Post


Capitola, CA - On July 22, with no one to speak against the sweeping changes in Capitola’s zoning ordinances, council members unanimously adopted new standards for parking, dwelling size, setbacks, building height and more. The intent by the Council was to downsize Capitola’s new homes. Big was no longer going to be better in this city-by-the-sea.

Additionally, owners of larger homes in Capitola will be prohibited from making additions or doing extensive remodeling.

“These homes that you have made non-conforming now can’t expand,” said Capitola Community Development Director Kathleen Malloy.

Councilman Tony Gualtieri said that he was pleased with the changes.

“This will restrict to a significant extent the size of a home in the R1 [zone],” Gualtieri said.

Councilwoman Gayle Ortiz said that she also was pleased the new ordinances were finally approved.

“This was one of my campaign goals,” Ortiz said, referring to the campaign she ran four years ago.

Councilman Bruce Arthur said that he was unhappy to see the number of larger homes being built in Capitola.

“It has been really hard to watch some of the newer homes going in. … They were chipping away at the [warm and fuzzy side of] Capitola,” Arthur said, adding that he wants to preserve the City’s older and smaller neighborhoods.

The new ordinance must be approved a second time by the Council in August, and then since Capitola is a coast community, must be reviewed and approved by the California Coastal Commission.

What the Ordinance will Change

After months in the making, with input from local architects, residents and council members, the changes will make new homes smaller in many ways.

— Reduce the Size of New Home on a Lot: the coverage of lots — better known as a Floor Area Ratio — will be decreased by about 5 percent to 15 percent, depending on the size of a lot. For instance, currently 65 percent of a lot 2,400 square feet or less could be used for construction, that is a 2,400 square foot lot could support a 1,560 square foot home. That will change to 58 percent. This means that under the new ordinance, a home owner could not build more than a 1,392 square foot home. The change becomes more significant the larger the lot. For example, currently 65 percent of a lot of 5,000 square feet can be built on. Under the adopted ordinance, the standard changes to 50 percent, which means that instead of a 3,250 square foot home, a homeowner could only construct a 2,500 square foot home.

— Setback Increased and Height Reduced: New garages or carports will have to be 40 feet from the front boundary, while side yards must be large enough to comprise 10 percent of the property and the home must be setback 7 feet from the side boundaries (on a corner lot the side yard setback is a minimum of 10 feet). Rear yards shall have a depth equal to and not less than 20 percent of the depth of the lot. For garages set behind a home, the minimum setback to the rear boundary is 8 feet.

— Floor Area Ratio Changes Mean Even Smaller Dwellings: In addition to reducing the total Floor Area Ratio (FAR) allowed for new homes, there are a number of other changes that will further reduce the size of a home. For instance, it used to be that Capitola planners would allow 300 square feet of deck area without counting any of the deck space in the FAR total. Now, home owners can only have up to 150 square feet before the deck is counted — subsequently reducing the overall size of the home. Additionally, all the upper decks will be counted without any allowance, which means that if you add 200 square feet of deck to your home that you have to reduce the overall size of your home by the same number of square feet.

— Landscaping, Historic Compatibility and Drainage Rules Expanded: The 77-page ordinance also speaks to a variety of other changes. For instance, there is now a landscape rule requiring that 15 percent of landscaping is to be of tree canopy consistent with the City’s Tree Ordinance. Another change is the addition of a historian to the City’s Architectural and Site Committee, with the hopes that more homes built in the future will be more consistent with existing neighborhoods. The ordinance gives more allowances to homes designed using historic architectural and design elements. The Ordinance also encourages the use of permeable paving materials.

So, Now You’re Non-Conforming

If you are one of the many homeowners whose houses will now be non-conforming — yesterday your home was built to City standards and today it’s too big for the lot size — there will be some limitations. For instance, even if you could have previously added a room to your home, under the new ordinance you won’t be allowed to.

Of course, you can always appeal to the Council for a variance. However, council members said that in adopting the new ordinance they hoped to put an end to variance requests. Councilman Gualtieri went as far as to say he hoped that future councils also held fast to the new guidelines.

In the case of fires when a home is destroyed, the new ordinance will also apply, meaning that a homeowner would have to reduce the size of his or her home to make the new structure conforming to the new codes if the dwelling is more than 90 percent destroyed in any type of disaster.



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