Wasatch CoHousing Update
From: remote (jmajormhz.com)
Date: Fri, 16 Aug 1996 16:01:36 -0500
YIPEE! YAHOO! Our rezoning proposal was passed unanimously by the Salt
Lake City Zoning Commission last night! Are we one relieved and happy
bunch of CoHopis! Amazed, too, since the unanimity came in the face
of  significant neighborhood opposition. It's a stressful process and
a trial by fire, as many of you know, and our hearts go out to those
of you are facing it, and who are struggling right in the midst of
it. 

The only reason we were rezoning in the first place was that the
current zoning insisted on single family homes on 7000 sft lots - no
ATTACHED homes. Since we wanted to keep as much of our 4.5 acres open
as possible, we designed it clustered, which meant that we had to
"up-zone" it, making higher density possible. Perhaps some day in
Salt Lake this zoning class will be amended to allow cluster zoning,
so it is easier to build this sort of thing. Given the receptivity of
the commissioners, it just might happen.

There was significant nastiness from a number of neighbors, however.
Much I believe was drummed up by an adjacent neighbor who is still
bitter that he didn't buy the place and fill it with tract homes.
Some of it was fear from this somewhat beat-up part of Salt Lake
that, once we got our zoning change, we were going to put in
high-density apartments, which they were having trouble with. But we
attached the rezoning to our particular site plan, so it would revert
to the less-dense category if we didn't build. That helped the
commissioners do the difficult thing of resisting the political
pressure. And finally, there was some plain 'ol personal nastiness
about "dogs shitting all over the place", "people with flowers in
their hair", and so forth, which you might expect from a pretty
conservative area. That tended to hurt the neighbors' credibility, at
any rate.

We had taken this list's advice and gone door to door handing out
brochures, but didn't have the guts, really, to talk to each
neighbor's concerns individually. We did meet with the Neighborhood
Council three times, however, and each meeting was less acrimonious,
and certainly gave folks a chance to vent.

As far as advice goes, I'd say it would be important to identify
those folks who have reasonable fears, and work with them, and not
worry too much about the ones that also hate when they fear. But the
thing that *truly* helped us here was our long-term relationship with
the city planning staff. We've been talking to them for two years, and
in the end they were extremely supportive (one even joined us
recently!). We learned their language, invited them to design
meetings, and worked with their engineers all the way. It was
*plenty* frustrating, but very worth it. Last night our staff person
let us lead off with a 5-minute "what is CoHousing" slide show -
there was no point in pretending any more that we were just a lil'
ol' condo development - which answered a lot of the commissioners'
questions right up front, and gave them pretty pictures to associate
with the project.

Each of the commissioners impressed us in particular, and not just
because many of them said "this looks like where I grew up!". They
seemed to really understand what we were trying to do - one of them
said "Gee, neighborhood-based community, self-run, central building
where they serve meals 5 times a night - we've already got plenty of
those, sounds like a Mormon Ward house!" They were impressed that we
were not cutting ourselves off - no walled in sub-division. Because
we were putting *fewer* houses in than the original zoning permitted,
providing a lot of open space, and providing the required parking of
the original zoning, we gave them plenty to hold on to - one said "we
see a lot of ugly projects come through - this is a dream!" Another
one pointed out that we and the neighbors clearly have some work to
do understanding each other, which is certainly true.

Well, I hope that this inspires some of you to gird up and wade back
in. Some day it will be a LOT easier, but somebody's gotta do it
now...

John Major
Wasatch CoHousing
jmajor [at] mhz.com

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