BEACON PHOTO/NOAH HERTZ NONCONFORMING — The charming bungalows that line Page Court near Downtown DeLand don’t conform to current City of DeLand building codes adopted after they were constructed. Most are too small to meet minimum square footages, and they don’t have garages, for example.

New rules pave the way for smaller houses, more ‘accessory dwellings’

The DeLand Planning Board has approved changes to the city’s land-development regulations to allow for a more diverse housing crop.

“What is involved in these LDR changes is trying to remove some of the regulatory requirements that stand in the way of having housing that ordinary people can afford in DeLand,” Planning Board Chair Virginia Comella said. “It is only a first step to addressing a very complex and nationwide problem.”

Suggestions to change the city code came in the form of a package of changes targeted at making housing more affordable within the city. The Planning Board reviewed the package at a special meeting March 9.


Quick guide to the new rules

  • ADUs — accessory dwelling units — would be easier to build. Owners would not have to live on the property to have an ADU.
  • The minimum square footage for all single-family homes outside of Downtown DeLand would be reduced to 900.
  • Parking rules would no longer require single-family homes to have a carport or garage for interior parking.
  • More flexibility would be granted for parking at multifamily developments, so long as the developer completes a parking study.
  • The minimum square footage requirements in Downtown DeLand would be eliminated to make it easier to develop single-family and multifamily housing in the central core.

How it would work

What do these changes look like in practice? Here are some examples:

  • A one-bedroom, 900-square-foot single-family home built in the city’s gateway district could also include a one-bedroom, 500-square-foot ADU on the same parcel of land. The property owner would not have to occupy either of these dwellings and, instead, could rent them out to students or others. Three parking spaces would be required on the lot — two for the one-bedroom home and another parking space for the ADU. No enclosed parking spaces would be required, which they are under current city codes.
  • New residential spaces could be built in Downtown DeLand above businesses or on the ground level. Currently, residential construction is allowed only on upper floors. The city would eliminate that requirement and others that were put in place to assure that commercial uses, not housing, would be dominant on the main streets.

Accessory dwelling units

One way to create affordable housing is to make it easier to build ADUs, or accessory dwelling units. Think mother-in-law suite in the backyard.

ADUs were previously classified as special exceptions in single-family residential zoning in the city’s code. That was loosened recently, but this latest change makes it clear that ADUs are allowed in all single-family zoning classifications, provided some requirements are met.

Rather than coming before city boards, a homeowner wanting to build an ADU would be required only to get a thumbs-up from the city’s planning staff and some permits.

As before, only one ADU is allowed per parcel, but the new rules would do away with requiring that either the ADU or the principal single-family home be occupied by the homeowner. Under these new rules, a property owner could rent out both the main unit and an ADU on property they own.

Some members of the Planning Board worried this could lead to out-of-town homeowners not properly maintaining their rental properties, but Community Development Director Rick Werbiskis insisted city codes and code enforcement would prevent the rise of DeLand slumlords.

Several members of the public spoke in favor of the changes to regulations for ADUs, including DeLandite Solomon Greene, an affordable-housing advocate and real estate broker with Greene Realty. He said the changes were a step in the right direction.

“I think allowing ADUs in all single-family situations is probably the most impactful step you can make,” Greene told the Planning Board. “… We have a huge inventory of rental properties in DeLand, and the owners who own those properties are probably the best suited and best capitalized that they could actually go out, invest the funds and build those units.”

An ADU could be a better investment for some than placing money in an investment account, Greene added.

“I picture a retired couple on a fixed income with savings in a CD [certificate of deposit] getting barely any interest. Taking that $100,000 in savings and building a studio ADU on their property may generate $600-$700 per month rather than that much per year in a CD,” he told The Beacon. “That is a great financial security for them in their retirement, and it also provides an affordable rental for a single professional or a young person just getting started.”

Parking

Another big change the Planning Board approved would alter City of DeLand parking requirements. Single-family homes under current land-development regulations are required to provide four total parking spaces — two inside a garage or carport and two outside the home. The proposed changes would do away with the requirement for two enclosed parking spaces, requiring only a minimum of two exterior parking spaces for a one-, two- or three-bedroom home. Three parking spaces would be required for a four-bedroom home.

For development of single-family housing in the C2-A, or Downtown commercial zoning classification, the parking requirements would remain in place, but could be adjusted, pending a parking study.

This worried Planning Board Member Albert Neumann, a civil engineer who said he is familiar with how developers think.

His concern was that reducing the number of required parking spaces would lead to an even greater lack of parking than the city already has, especially Downtown.

Planning Board Member Don Liska said this may be a benefit.

“I think what we’re doing here is encouraging, perhaps, a more pedestrian society,” Liska said. “People would walk Downtown, walk to a neighborhood grocery store, walk to work.”

As of now, Downtown DeLand does not have a grocery store of its own, but Mayor Bob Apgar has mentioned his desire to bring one into the area.

The change to the city’s parking requirements would make construction cheaper and eliminate some problems with existing homes. Many homes were built before existing requirements were implemented, Planning Director Mike Holmes explained, but when those rules were put in place, those homes were considered “nonconforming.”

Holmes said “nonconforming” status can make it more difficult for the homeowner to pull permits for construction or obtain loans from banks.

Square footage and Downtown development

Several big changes were proposed to the square-footage requirements for residential housing citywide.

First, the minimum square footage of single-family homes across all zoning classifications would be reduced to 900 square feet. Current minimums range from 1,000 to 1,800 square feet.

This change, Randy Jenkins, executive director of West Volusia Habitat for Humanity, said, would mean more affordable homes could be built in town.

Habitat for Humanity owns around 40 lots in DeLand, Jenkins told The Beacon — many of them in or around the Spring Hill neighborhood on the city’s southwest side — but the nonprofit can’t build homes on them under the city’s current rules. Some lots aren’t large enough or adjacent to the street.

Changing the minimum square footage requirement would mean Habitat for Humanity could build homes on a number of their lots almost immediately, Jenkins said.

He praised the change, but argued that even lower minimums, as low as 600 square feet, would be beneficial.

“It would cost me today $140,000-$150,000 to build a 900-square-foot house, and I can’t put a family making $28,000 in a $140,000- $150,000 house,” Jenkins said. “We have to have the flexibility to use existing inventory to plan and build a house that meets that requirement and works on that land.”

The square footage requirement for Downtown development also has significant proposed changes — there wouldn’t be any minimums.

Current city code requires a minimum of 425 square feet for a residential dwelling in Downtown DeLand. This was originally done, Holmes explained, to ensure housing didn’t upstage businesses in the Downtown core. Nowadays, with an established commercial base, residential infill development could spread more widely through the city’s Downtown.

These changes and others all seek to promote more residential development in Downtown DeLand while still ensuring commercial development is the main focus.

A step, not a fix

All of these changes serve not to fix DeLand’s lack of affordable housing, but to remedy some long-standing problems, DeLand attorney Mark Watts — speaking as a DeLand homeowner, not on behalf of a developer — said March 9.

“I think what you have in front of you is not a perfect solution to affordable housing. I don’t think that thing exists or has been found yet, but it’s a good start,” Watts said to the Planning Board. “I think the context I’d encourage you to look at the changes in front of you today is this is starting with what’s in our code now that we can eliminate or change that acts as a barrier to affordability in DeLand.”

More changes to the city’s comprehensive plan are likely on the horizon. Affordable housing was targeted as one important topic for the city to tackle as part of its 2050 Vision Plan.

The Planning Board makes recommendations to the DeLand City Commission, which makes the final decisions. The land-development-regulation changes were recommended for approval on a 5-1 vote, with Planning Board Members Buz Nesbit, Nora Lewis, Don Liska, Jeremy Owens and Chair Virginia Comella in favor, while Member Albert Neumann was the lone dissenting vote. Dan Reed, the seventh member of the Planning Board, was absent.

Neumann said his vote against approving the changes had nothing to do with the affordable-housing aspects, which he supports, but everything to do with parking.

“If they only have to build three parking spaces instead of four, they’re only going to build three,” he said.

The City Commission is expected to hear the changes at its meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, April 18.

The DeLand City Com-mission meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Monday of every month in the City Commission Chambers at DeLand City Hall, 120 S. Florida Ave. All meetings are open to the public and can be livestreamed online at the city’s website.

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