‘Cottage Developments’

White Rock

One of the most contentious and confusing new inclusions in the proposed Section 16 is “Cottage Developments.” The idea is to allow as many small housing units as can be crammed on a lot while meeting some set of minimum conditions that are currently unclear. Originally, all that was required was meeting the minimum setbacks. That might be the case still, but the wording is so vague and confused as to possibly mean nothing.

Here’s what it says right now:

1. The minimum lot size for co-housing development is 1 acre.
2. Underlying zone district lot and setback requirements shall apply to the project site boundaries as a whole, but not to individual co-housing dwellings.
3. A minimum common open space of 10 percent of the total site area shall be designated and permanently reserved as usable common open space.
4. The development may contain shared indoor community space for all residents to use for activities, cooking, and/or dining.

A “Cottage Development” would require a “conditional use permit” in the RA, RE and SFR zones. These are essentially the various Single Family Residential zones of all sizes. Only a standard permit would be required in any zone starting with RM, MF or U.

First, note that item 1. states the minimum size for a “co-housing development” is 1 acre, but there is no constraint mentioned for a Cottage Development, which is what this section is about. A strict reading of the language means there is actually no minimum lot size for a Cottage Development.

This is further supported by the crossed out copy on Page 74: “A cottage development shall have no more than the total residential gross floor area that would be allowed on an equal size property in the same zone district for single-family detached development.”

Next note that lot and setback requirements shall apply to the project site BOUNDARIES … but not to the interior of the lot.

Looking at the extreme case, which we always should, this means that as long as the Planning & Zoning Commission approves the application, a cottage development could appear on any residential lot in Los Alamos County, filling the entire lot minus the required setbacks and a 10% common area. That infill can go up to 35 feet high, in which it is possible to fit four minimal stories with a flat roof.

Either that is the intent of the current version as presented, or it’s actually just a mess.

But what is the co-housing development constrained under the “Cottage Development” header? It’s mentioned in section 3-2(A)(IV) DWELLING,CO-HOUSING DEVELOPMENT, with the following description:
1. This use may provide shared kitchen if kitchens are not provided in each dwelling unit.
1. This may contain shared indoor community space for all residents to use.

(The double appearance of item 1. is actually present).

Whatever else it might be, a co-housing development is not allowed in any residential zone according to the table on Page 66. It has parking requirements on Page 100, and a definition on Page 223: “Dwelling, Co-housing Development. A medium to high-density residential development in which multi-family dwellings may share access, parking, common spaces, kitchens, and dining rooms.”

That’s all we know about the Co-Housing Development, and we have no idea why it is the only thing mentioned specifically under “Cottage Development.”

Ultimately, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what is intended by this language. It will be imperative to carefully vet the final version. Hopefully it will actually make sense.