New zoning regulations brought a wave of residential projects to the Rosemary District. Can those same regulations help provide neighborhood improvements?
What should the Rosemary District look like in five years?
For a segment of the city that’s already experiencing whirlwind change, it’s an important question to answer.
In the past five years, the north-of-downtown neighborhood has transformed from a languishing district in need of redevelopment to a breeding ground for residential projects.
That transformation can be traced back to one change: the city’s adoption of the Rosemary Residential Overlay District, a zoning regulation that tripled the maximum residential density for new projects in the neighborhood. The 2014 decision to allow up to 75 dwelling units per acre led to a building boom, with more than 1,500 new housing units approved in the Rosemary District in three years.
As a result, the conversation among city officials and Rosemary District stakeholders has shifted. No longer desperate for revitalization, residents and businesses are asking themselves how they might be able to achieve higher-quality development.
With thousands of people moving into what had been a mostly dormant neighborhood, those living in the area now want to make sure the growth is managed properly.
Howard Davis, president of the Rosemary District Association, hopes the source of these newfound anxieties can also serve as an opportunity to find solutions. For more than a year, Davis and other neighborhood stakeholders have been working with the city on a revised version of the Rosemary Residential Overlay District — and exploring opportunities to have developers enhance the area when they embark on a project.
The city’s efforts to update the overlay district, which will expire at the end of the year, coincide with an ongoing community planning effort within the Rosemary District. Residents, businesses and property owners have spent more than two years mapping out a vision and guiding principles for the future of the neighborhood.
Davis said it seemed natural to combine the two conversations.
“The idea was, we would try to take what came out of that two-year grassroots planning effort and use the zoning as a tool for advancing some of these strongly held neighborhood desires about what should be happening,” Davis said.
The city was amenable to the collaborative process and happy with the results it produced. Planning General Manager Ryan Chapdelain said the constant engagement with the broader community made staff more confident in its recommendations.
“There was a lot of positivity, a lot of support for these new standards,” Chapdelain said.
The city hosted a community workshop Nov. 28 to present a draft version of the revised overlay district.
The proposal includes enhanced baseline building standards and potential density bonuses if a developer is willing to provide open space, affordable housing or contribute to other community needs.
Although those at the workshop were generally supportive, some questions arose. Residents asked whether the regulations could include more detail about tree standards, an item Davis said officials would likely be willing to revisit.
Others asked whether the density bonuses would be significant enough to entice developers into providing community enhancements, particularly affordable housing. Architect Michael Halflants suggested that increased density wasn’t a huge benefit for builders, as it just allowed them to build more, smaller units within the same amount of space.
“You’re not getting additional square footage,” Halflants said. “You’re not getting additional height.”
Davis and Chapdelain said the density bonuses included in the revised overlay district were thoroughly vetted, but both admitted it’s a different product than any zoning regulations the city has in place. Both men anticipated there could eventually be some need for revision if a new overlay is adopted, once officials and stakeholders see the effects in practice.
But for now, those involved in crafting the new overlay district expressed optimism it would lead to a better future for the Rosemary District.
“This is a whole lot better than the other options before us and can help signal some new directions for the city,” Davis said.
The existing Rosemary Residential Overlay District was a straightforward concept: Although the standard zoning allowed for a density of 25 dwelling units per acre, individual projects could build up to 75 units per acre as long as the overall neighborhood density was still below 25 units per acre.
The proposed revision to the overlay district creates a more complex series of regulations, designed to address neighborhood needs by requiring developers to provide community enhancements in exchange for enhanced density.
Although the new overlay district is still in a draft stage, here’s how some of the new regulations might work:
Baseline density: 40 units per acre
This represents an increase from the baseline density of 25 units per acre allowed before the overlay district was in place.
In exchange, all projects within the overlay district would have to comply with higher building standards. In the draft code, regulations are written to require wider sidewalks, shade via canopies, street-level windows, enhanced public art, porches, stoops and balconies for residential buildings and architectural features to break up long building facades, among other requirements.
Neighborhood improvement density bonuses: Up to 60 units per acre
As in the existing overlay district, the new regulations would allow for increased density — but this time, only in exchange for neighborhood improvements.
The enhanced density would be awarded if a developer helped contribute to three of the community’s established goals: more urban open space, more mixed-use projects or improved parking.
For example: If a developer dedicated 5% of a site to public open space, the project would be entitled to an additional 10 units per acre. If the developer dedicated 10% of the site to public open space, the project would get an additional 20 units per acre.
There are standards designed to ensure the open space is a sufficient size for public use. The provision would allow the developer to recoup the land dedicated to open space by increasing the maximum building height from five to seven stories.
Other incentives would allow for density up to 50 units per acre for building a mixed-use project or donating up to $200,000 toward neighborhood open space or parking funds.
Affordable housing density bonus: Up to 100 units per acre
As the city seeks to increase its supply of affordable housing, officials hope a revised Rosemary District overlay could contribute to that cause.
That’s why the proposal would allow as many as 100 units per acre if the developer is willing to provide affordable housing units. The proposal defines affordable housing as those available to households with an income between 60% and 120% of the area median income. For a family of four, that represents an annual income between $42,180 and $84,360.
A developer could get a bonus of three market-rate units for each affordable housing unit incorporated into a project. The affordable units must be maintained at an affordable rate for at least 30 years.
Transfer of development rights
One additional incentive was crafted to encourage the preservation of historic properties within the Rosemary District.
The owner of any property on a local or national historic register would be able to sell their site’s development rights to another property owner. Another property owner would be allowed to purchase the unused density or floor area to which the historic property is entitled.
The purchasing property owner would be entitled to an additional two stories of height to incorporate the new development rights. Once sold, the development rights of the historic property would be lost in perpetuity.