Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Common sense lacking in Sun Villas setbacks

Guest opinion by Milton Adam

Milton Adam is a resident of Sun Valley

The overpowering, inappropriate, non-conforming, and contentious Sun Villas project is directly the fault of the City of Sun Valley. A momentous and grievous error in a city law allowed the Sun Villas project in the CC zone to occur.

The city's law, Title 9, Planning and Zoning, sets forth in all zoning districts reasonable setbacks of encroachments of buildings from property lines and from adjacent zoning district boundaries; zoning districts RA, RS-1, RS-2, RM-1, RM-2, SC and CC. In 1999, the city authored a rewrite of the zoning law, 9-6B CC (Commercial Center) District, but uniquely left out any setback requirements whatsoever in that zone! The city authored the flawed law, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved it, and the City Council enacted it in Ordinance #309, 10/21/1999. When the city was asked last spring about why there had been no setback requirements, the reply was a hesitant; "It was an omission."

After 1999, the setback omission in CC zoning law was discovered by the Sun Villas developer and his designers, who knew it was an error, but exploited it and drove a hundred-ton truck through the loophole. Sun Villas was submitted to the city under the zoning law that went into effect 10/21/1999, and Sun Villas has been grandfathered ever since. The first plans submitted had massive 64-foot-high buildings, the full equivalent of two Sun Valley Lodges, merely feet away from the property lines and from the RM-1 zone boundaries of the Indian Springs, Ridge, and Sunburst condominiums. But, hey, it was all legal per the city's zoning laws.

The previous city law CC zone requirements prior to 10/21/1999, and which the city omitted in the rewrite, called for setbacks from the property lines and adjacent zone boundaries of a minimum of 35 feet plus an additional one foot for every foot of building height exceeding 30 feet (64-foot heights allowed in CC). The new flawed law had no setback

Requirements! The city's omission gave the developer a bonanza of a 44 percent increase in the land he could build on in the 4-acre CC zoned parcel of Sun Villas.

In a lesser commercial zone, SC (Service Commercial) city law 9-6A-4C, before 10/21/1999 and still in effect calls for minimum setbacks from property lines and from RA or RS-1 zone boundaries of 25 feet, plus one foot for building heights exceeding 25 feet (SC building height limited to 44 feet).

But there were no setback requirements for buildings in the CC zone after 10/21/1999, and the Sun Villas gargoyle rose from the ashes of that failure.

After the plans of the huge Sun Villas buildings, squeezed up to the property lines and zone boundaries into the limits of the 4-acre parcel next to the Elkhorn Village, began making waves among the surrounding residential areas, an again revised city law for the CC zone was authored, approved, and enacted in Ordinance #344, 8/13/2003, to legitimize the city government's error and omission. This new law was doctored and tailored to recognize and make legal retroactively the grievous error from which resulted the Sun Villas. The building heights allowed are still 64 feet, but words added for setbacks are minimum 35 feet plus one additional foot for each foot of building height exceeding 30 feet, but that is only from any RA or RS-1 zone. Illogically, such adjacent zone conditions do not exist anywhere in Sun Valley and certainly not in the CC zone of the Sun Villas.

The ultimate insult which accommodates and tailors the law to legitimize Sun Villas and its developers is the rewritten 8/13/2003 law 9-6B-4D-2 which adds in missing setback wording but requires a CC zone to have only a 15-foot setback (!!!) from property lines and from any RS-2, RM-1, or RM-2 zoning district boundary for a building 30 feet high to a maximum height of 64 feet. The Sun Villas on its CC zone is surrounded on three sides by an adjacent RM-1 zone of residential condominiums. A massive 64-foot-high commercial- zone building now requires only a 15-foot setback from a zone of modest 2-floor residences. This is good planning? Where is the equity? Where is even common sense? Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, the city is still trying to accommodate the developer to build the Sun Villas, despite the city's grievous error which brought forth the totally inappropriate project. Can the city really say that such a project was envisioned and intended and is good for that small piece of property in that location? Maybe the city can, but certainly the people of Sun Valley won't.

The city government's unconscionable error and omission in its city law zoning requirements and its subsequent accommodations and equivocations is responsible for allowing a really bad project, wrong size in the wrong place, to be dumped into the small-scale residential community surrounding it. At the minimum, the project should be rejected and made to be resubmitted under newer city laws, not grandfathered. The moratorium should also be taken advantage of immediately to rewrite correctly city law 9-6B-4D-2 to put back into the CC zone the original omitted 35-foot property line and adjacent zone setbacks.

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