Today I'm headed to Detroit for a short speaking engagement. This Thursday we've got our board starting to roll into Central Minnesota for a retreat this weekend. I spent this past Saturday recovering from the content sprint that was last week and then yesterday was up until 3AM putting stuff together for our board. All of this is to say that this week might be a little light on Chuck-originated content. Lots of other stuff for you, fortunately.

I've got some thoughts on Greece as well as the Pope's latest encyclical (I'm only 1/3 of the way through it) that I'm going to try and get to yet this week, but for today I wanted to share this gem from John Anderson. This is the kind of stuff you get when you are part of the Small Developers/Builders Facebook group.

And FYI - Our Small Developers Boot Camp scheduled for August is SOLD OUT. We're scheduling at least one more for 2015 and possibly a third. Sign up to get notified or, better yet, become a member to get early notification.

I sent this to somebody I trust on the mayor's staff. I am hoping that it can serve as a cautionary tale in understanding how much damage bad zoning regulations can inflict upon an otherwise well-intentioned town.

Dear XXXX,
I am currently looking to buy and renovate a four-plex at the corner of Sycamore and Tijeras streets, in between Central Avenue and MLK. The site is 100' from the MLK bus line and 600' from the Central Avenue bus line. Presbyterian Hospital and the UNM Campus are both about 1800 feet away from the subject site.

As part of my due diligence on the property prior to closing, I need to understand if I am likely to get conventional bank financing for the purchase and renovation. One of the basic requirements of an FHA insured loan is that the building complies with local zoning requirements.

Here is the Four-plex on Zillow:…/35.084819,-106.62801,35.0822…/18_zm/

So to figure out the answer to the question "does this property comply with local zoning?" I have just spent the last 5 hours plodding through the city zoning regulations. I am familiar with the development regulations for the City of Albuquerque and I am a capable real estate professional. I cannot imagine what this process would be like for someone not in the business.

I started on the City web site with the Zone Atlas to see what zoning is applied to the site and what sector plan apples to the site. Zoning is SU-2 / MD-1 Which means it is a Special Neighborhood Zone -2 and Mixed Density -1. The site is within the boundaries of the University Neighborhood Sector Plan adopted in 1986.

I read the University Neighborhoods Sector Plan and see that the Mixed Density Residential Area has three policy intended to address the Needs and Objectives stated in the Sector Plan.

Redevelopment with mid-rise apartments and townhouses shall be encouraged.

The rehabilitation of sound residential structures shall be encouraged.

New Development shall serve to preserve the neighborhood character and improve its quality.

On page 74 The Sector Plan says that the MD-1 Mixed Density land use category corresponds to the R-T Residential Zone in the Comprehensive City Zoning Code, including any subsequent amendments, and is subject to the same regulations as that zone with some minor exceptions which include a site development plan review to insure compliance with the University Neighborhoods Sector Development Plan and the Metropolitan Redevelopment Plan.

I look at the R-T Residential Zone Section 14-16-2-9. I find that townhouses are an allowed use and under the definitions in the Zoning regulations the existing structure is a townhouse. The existing building has 4 units, each with their own entrance at grade. The minimum lot width is 22 feet per unit ,so with 4 units this lot should be 88 feet wide.It is not. The site is a corner lot that measures approximately 40 x 65, so neither street frontage will satisfy the lot width. The minimum lot area is 2200 SF per unit. This lot is 2600 SF total. The four units are all studios, less than 300 SF each and the R-T zone makes no provisions for small units. By the way, this lot area requirement applied to 300 SF units would produce a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 0.013.

The R-T zone section refers me to Section for the required off-street parking and any possibility of relief from those requirements, since the site has no off-street parking at this time.

I have attached a PDF of this section for your use with some red clouded areas and yellow highlighted text. Section requires one space per bath but not less than 1.5 spaces per dwelling unit. 1.5 x four units is 6 off-street parking spaces required for the four studio units that currently park on the street. There are some reductions in off-street parking provided for if the building is within 300 feet of a regular Albuquerque Transit System route, so I could get a 10% reduction to the required 6 off-street spaces. 6 spaces minus .6 spaces = 5.4 space required off-street.

But wait, Section E.5 says "In calculating the total number of required off-street parking spaces, fractional amounts are to be rounded up to the next whole number."

So 5.4 rounds up to 6 and there is in fact, no reduction in off-street parking to be had for proximity to transit of the fact that the four studio units are within easy walking distance of Presbyterian Hospital and the UNM campus.

Following the section on Transit reductions in required off-street parking is a section on Mixed Use Shared Parking Reductions which is quite bizarre. "In no case shall shard parking include parking required for residential uses".

There is a section on On-street Parking Credit that allows for one half of the parking along the street frontage of the lot to be counted against the amount of required off street parking. There are currently four on-street parking spaces along the perimeter of the lot. One of those spaces would be lost to a driveway to provide access to the required off-street spaces, so of the three remaining spaces, I could get credit for 1.5 spaces 6 space - 1.5 = 4.5 required off-street spaces, and since fractional spaces are rounded up to the next whole number, that would be 5 spaces.

But wait. There is Section "Buildings constructed before 1965 cannot take advantage of the on-street parking credit until all the off-street parking requirements are met"

So, I am back to 6 spaces. One of those spaces will have to be an accessible space, which is essentially two spaces wide.

Plus I am required to provide an off-street motorcycle parking space.

Since off-street parking is not allowed in the 15' front yard setback all 5 regular parking spaces plus the 1 accessible space plus the 1 motorcycle spaces would have to be located in the remaining 50' of the lot. Once you factor in the required setbacks and the maneuvering and circulation space mandated in the regulations, the required parking for the four 300 studios will take up the entire 40' x 65' parcel, WHICH LEAVES NO ROOM FOR THE EXISTING BUILDING.

So to make sure that the appraiser looking at my loan application does not find that the existing building does not meet local zoning, I will need to meet with the Neighborhood Association and get their support for some form of variance from the Environmental Planning Commission if I want to add 200-250 SF to this existing non-conforming building. A building that provides small units affordable to folks below 80% of Area Median Income within walking distance of a major regional medical facility and the Main Campus of the University of New Mexico.

I could spend a little more time looking through the process for making an application for a variance and the findings that the Environmental Planning Commission would need to make to grant a variance, but I have concluded that this might be a waste of time. I have come to believe that the site is "contaminated".

It is contaminated with ridiculous regulations that actively interfere with the delivery of the policy goals set forth in the current Comprehensive Plan and the current 1986 Sector Plan. By the way, I also looked at the Form Based Zoning Code and found that it does not apply to areas zoned SC-2.

If this condition is typical to other neighborhoods along the Innovation Corridor, building new small scale infill buildings or performing modest renovations like this little four-plex are beyond my abilities as a small developer/builder. I understand that the Integrated Development Code is intended to address this problem. How quickly or effectively it does so will make a difference in what can be built or rebuilt in the neighborhoods along the Innovation Corridor.

I would be happy to meet with anyone on the City staff or the consultants writing the IDC to discuss these issues. The problem demands competent and timely action.