Zoning patterns
From: Thomas Lofft (tloffthotmail.com)
Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2013 07:59:06 -0800 (PST)
Joyce Thompson wrote:
[We are Placitas Sage, a developing senior cohousing community in Placitas,
New Mexico.  Placitas is a rural/suburban unincorporated area 10 miles
north of Albuquerque and about 40 miles south of Santa Fe.  We have found a
wonderful 11.8 acre site in the foothills of the Sandia mountains and
planned to build 20 800-1200 sq.ft. units, but we have just learned the
county zoning board is treating us like a *subdivision* and limiting us to
only 11 housing units -- restricted to 1 house per acre, like most of the
rest of the area.  That number is too small, both for community and for
financial purposes, for our community.
Have any of you persuaded a zoning board in a *rural* area to change the
zoning for cohousing from a subdivision, allowing more dense clusters of
housing units (condos/casitas) along with a common house and shared
land/garden, etc.?
Unlike urban areas, our water will come from wells, and septic systems will
handle sewage.   This seems to be an unusual model for cohousing.  Have any
of you created cohousing in a rural area with these kinds of systems?]
Just a brief perusal of the on-line Sandoval County, NM zoning ordinance 
identifies several possibilities.
The zoning ordinance does provide for "Cluster Housing Development" which is a 
great start. This allows flexibility in lot sizes and setbacks, but conditions 
the proposal on adequate liquid waste disposal (Sewage treatment).  There are a 
few significant constraints: first, you would need to rezone the property to a 
SU - Special Use District; second, you may even need to change the County 
Comprehensive Plan and/or the Las Plascitas Area Plan to allow consideration 
for an SU District; third, you need to have engineered plans for water supply 
and sewage treatment and disposal, whether it is also going to be clustered or 
separate systems for each home. Generally, I would recommend that a 
consolidated internal water supply is more efficient and economical than 
drilling separate wells for each home. Same for sewerage and waste disposal. 
One of the most efficient waste disposal systems I have seen is operating at 
Hundredfold Farm in Ortanna, PA:
The entire system operates year-round in a large greenhouse that also provides 
cultivated produce and clean effluent for local landscape irrigation. 
All of these efforts will require a dedicated effort in planning and 
engineering as well as open negotiation with the Planning & Zoning Director, 
the Planning & Zoning  Board  and the County Commissioners to get full 
approvals. You won't be finished by the end of the year and I won't even guess 
which year.  
Yes, we did this all for the development of Liberty Village, MD, for 38 new 
homes on 24 acres; and Hundredfold Farm also did it in PA for 14 homes. It 
takes a committed group of knowledgeable talented cohousers or the ability to 
purchase the consulting efforts from local experts.
But your greatest constraint is that all the Sandoval County SUD and cluster 
housing flexibility is still constrained by the generally restrictive permitted 
density of the RRA - Rural Residential/Agricultural District which is only one 
unit per acre. 
SO you have to look at the value of the land you propose to acquire. It is not 
a parcel large enough for 20 units, it will only permit 11 units and thereafore 
is only worth the raw land value of 11 units  less the cost of developing the 
infrastructure for the 11 units.  Don't even think of paying a value you can't 
afford for the land. 
Talk to the county Planning Director, Mike Springfield. The zoning ordinance 
has many creative aspects. Ask Mike how you can get a 2 unit per acre density 
permitted on an 11 acre rezone to suppport your cohousing vision. 
Tom Lofft
Liberty Village, MD



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