Richland draft development ordinance discussed

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldOctober 31, 2012 

Density, vistas and house color were among the characteristics members of the Richland City Council and planning commission considered setting for hillside projects.

The council and commission met Tuesday to review a draft of an ordinance that could be used to set development standards for hillside development in Richland.

Marianne Boring, planning commission chairwoman, said commissioners have had several hillside projects come before them that have caused them to realize that they lack the adequate tools to review the projects.

The council denied a 44-unit condominium project last month that developer Tony Tahvilli of TMT Homes in Kennewick wanted to build on 10.4 acres off Meadow Hills Drive, west of the Meadow Hills subdivision in south Richland. The property has slopes of up to 23 degrees.

The planning commission had recommended approval of the project if it was downsized by 10 units.

The commission has reviewed hillside development standards from other cities and come up with a draft hillside ordinance, said Bill King, Richland's deputy city manager.

King said commission members wanted to test the waters with the city council and see if they were going in the right direction before seeking broader public comment.

The proposal would include changing the density allowed, based on the slope of the proposed subdivision, said Rick Simon, the city's development services manager. As slopes increase, density would decrease.

King said existing subdivisions appear to be built at a lower density than what is currently proposed.

And it also includes a density calculation that includes a bonus when developers use part of their property for open space, Simon said. That would allow homes to be built more in a cluster.

Mayor Pro Tem David Rose said he has a problem with allowing someone to build more because they provided open space.

But King said it is a fairly common technique used to encourage the type of development the community wants.

The current proposal includes having structures conform more to terrain rather than building flat pads and having even the color of the building complement the surrounding area.

Boring said she took issue with telling people what color they can paint their homes.

Planning commission member Debbie Berkowitz said she thinks it shouldn't just be earth tones but should be an issue of blending the structure into its surroundings and not having it stick out like a sore thumb.

For ridge lines, Clifford Clark, planning commission member, said he thinks the city could most benefit from public comment to determine what kind of vistas citizens want to see protected.

Once the standards are in place, Clark said the city will see some developers comply, even if they do not have to.

The effect of new regulations would be fairly limited because much of the area that the city is concerned about already has vested development rights and has been subdivided, King said.

Carol Moser, a planning commission member, said the commission hasn't had a tool to judge compatibility, whether it is with the neighbors, the terrain or the hillside. She said that is why she is excited to have the city consider the guidelines.

Councilman Bob Thompson said the council should make the final decision about a proposed hillside development. Then, the planning commission makes a recommendation.

The planning commission will continue to work on the proposal and public outreach likely will happen in January, officials said.

Boring said she hopes it doesn't take six months to create the standards because that could cause an influx of projects proposed on hillsides under the city's current criteria.

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