Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 8:20 pm | Fair 59º


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Santa Barbara Planning Commission Supports Allowing Minor Exceptions For Zoning Information Reports

City's proposed ordinance tries to make it easier for home sellers who have building violations

The Santa Barbara Planning Commission on Thursday took a step toward easing the tensions between government officials and property owners over controversial zoning information reports

The seven-member panel wants to give the community development director the power to grant minor zoning exceptions when there's a discrepancy or error in a zoning information report

The vote was 5-1-1, with commissioner Jay Higgins voting in opposition and Deborah Schwartz abstaining. The City Council will decide the fate of the proposed ordinance.

"This has been a very difficult project to work on," said commissioner June Pujo. "I think the ordinance draft is good."

Home sellers are required to apply for a zoning information report no later than five days after entering an agreement for sale. If the report reveals violations at the home, the problems must be fixed, often jeopardizing the sale of the house close to escrow.

Real estate agents believe the reports often contain errors and since they are performed by zoning staff members, not building officials, they lack the expertise to make such determinations.

City officials, however, believe the reports are essential to identifying illegal add-ons and remodels that may pose health and safety issues or adversely affect neighborhood culture and quality of life.

This new proposal will help bridge the impasse that often occurs between property owners and the city by allowing them to make some changes right away, in a less expensive fashion.

The only current way to resolve zoning violations — besides demolishing or fixing the structure — is to apply for a modification, which is expensive and time-intensive. 

Realtors have fought hard against the zoning information reports, asking that they be considered voluntary, rather than mandatory. They also cost $465. 

Reyne Staplemann, president of the Santa Barbara Realtors Association, has remained a thorn in the side of the city. She supports the proposed change, even if she doesn't think it solves the overall problem.

"ZIRs are an issue we all have been struggling with for several years," Staplemann said. "While this ordinance will help with the minor ZIR issues, the city should make ZIRs voluntary."

Schwartz abstained from voting because she wanted to dive deeper into the details of each exception and the potential scenarios associated with it, before recommending the ordinance to the City Council.

"I think getting the details right is important," Schwartz said. 

Higgins said that he wanted a sunset period, maybe after two or three years, and at that time evaluate the ordinance.

"I sense that the approach to this is going to uncover things that are unintended at some point," Higgins said. 

The list of items that would be included as a minor zoning exception include: 

* Conversion of a legal, non-conforming carport to a garage or vice versa.

* Conversion of required parking to another use as long as the number and configuration of parking spaces requires at the time of conversion is provided on site.

* Within the required setback, open yard, or distance between buildings, decks less than 200 square feet in size, not extending above the finished floor level of the first floor; building additions less than 250 square feet.

* An accessory building less than 120 square feet which is not considered a separate residential unit, was constructed prior to Aug. 1, 1975 and is not located in a front yard or required open yard.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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