Coastal Commission joins local push for smaller homes
By Kurtis Alexander
Posted: 03/10/2009 01:30:34 AM PDT

The California Coastal Commission is poised to approve a crackdown on giant homes being built on the shores of Santa Cruz County.

An amendment reducing the amount of land a coastal property owner can develop was passed by county supervisors two years ago and will be taken up Thursday by the Coastal Commission. The state agency has final say on development matters along the shoreline.

“We think that this is a good recommendation, and it will help scale down the size of homes along coastal bluffs,” said Susan Craig, a planner for the commission.

The amendment to the planning code is part of the county’s ongoing effort to discourage overly large homes in beach communities and preserve the surf shacks and bungalows that have come to define many of these neighborhoods.

The latest change prevents property owners in unincorporated parts of the county from counting cliff faces and beach areas as developable land. While these areas are now restricted from development, they can be figured into total lot size, which determines how big a home can be; the more square-footage, the larger the home that is allowed.

Planners estimate 500 properties would be affected by the new rule.

To offset the blow to potential home builders, the county is increasing the percentage of property that can be built on as well as easing front-yard setbacks. These changes, planners say, may increase home sizes slightly but maintain community character by encouraging
shorter houses and more diverse designs.

Architect Cove Britton of Santa Cruz, a critic of the recent amendment, argues that limiting the amount of land that property owners can build on does little to ensure neighborhood compatibility. He and others have also said it’s unfair to homeowners who may lose their houses and wish to rebuild.

“This is a badly written ordinance from the get-go,” Britton said.

Elsewhere in the county, planners have employed other tactics to keep development in line with the community as a whole, such as crafting neighborhood design standards and adding homes to the historic register to halt tear-down-and-rebuilds.

The Coastal Commission initially pushed the county to tighten its amendment but has since backed off and is now asking for two small technical changes.

At a glance

A proposed amendment to the county’s coastal building rules would:
Exclude certain areas like cliff faces from being counted toward a lot’s net size, which determines how big a home can be built.
Increase the amount of a property that can be built on from 30 to 40 percent.
Base front-yard setbacks on setbacks in the neighborhood.
The California Coastal Commission will take up the proposed amendment at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Portola Hotel and Spa at Monterey Bay, Two Portola Plaza, Monterey.