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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Worries of a ‘mini-dorm’ rattle neighbors

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From page A1 | July 15, 2014 |

When is a remodel not just any remodel?

Something is going on at 641 Sunset Court that had city officials scrutinizing every aspect of the owner’s plans for a remodel. Ultimately, city officials were obligated to grant the project a building permit after checking with city codes and the city attorney.

But the plans were thought to be so controversial that former City Manager Steve Pinkerton was the one to sign off on the remodel, city officials said.

The owner’s plans were to expand an 1,800-square-foot single-story house on a quiet street into a 2,625-square-foot house, complete with five large identical bedrooms connected to their own bathrooms, a dining and living space, a big kitchen and a guest bathroom. An existing pool is in the back yard, according to site plans and Google Earth.

Neighbors worry that 641 Sunset Court represents an old issue resurfacing in Davis: mini-dorms.

A decade ago, the City Council tackled the issue of single-family houses being “remodeled” to become housing for students, often by walling off family rooms to make an extra bedroom or adding bedrooms to the back of the house, Mike Webb, Davis director of community development and sustainability, said.

The rule the city set up at the time was calibrated to catch sloppy remodels for student housing without sweeping up more traditional remodels. Houses that remodeled with six or more bedrooms needed a conditional use permit — something that adds potential thousands of dollars to the cost of a remodel.

But neighbors worry that the 641 Sunset Court situation could demonstrate that the City Council has more work to do.

Shelly Bailes and Ellen Pontac live next door. Beyond the mosquito problems they had with an untended pool this past year, they point to evidence in the site plans for 641 Sunset Court that indicate it’s to be a mini-dorm.

“It’s definitely not set up for the way a family wants to live,” Bailes said.”There are locks on every door. They’re calling it a master bedroom but it’s just like every other room.”

If 641 Sunset Court wasn’t enough to give the couple pause, two other remodels are underway on their street, according to city planning documents. While site plans weren’t available for the properties at 653 Sunset Court and 644 Sunset Court, the timing of the remodels make Bailes, Pontac and other neighbors who didn’t wish to be identified worry about the texture of the neighborhood once everything is built and possibly rented.

Already, rentals have grown in number in the neighborhood north of Russell Boulevard and just off Anderson Road.

“When we moved here it was all families,” Pontac said. “It’s changed.”

The pair said on-street parking was a huge problem on their street already, and 641 Sunset Court would have only three potential parking spaces that aren’t on the street.

Apparently Bailes’ and Pontac’s concerns hit a nerve with the city, despite not having any problems yet to point to.

“The neighbors were expressing concerns about it because they were afraid it would be a rental home,” Webb said, adding that any impacts from potential renters were speculative at this point.

“We don’t know who is going to be living in the home,” he said. “We don’t know if they’re going to be a problem or not.”

Still, the application for a remodel rose beyond the Planning Department at City Hall to the city manager’s desk, Webb said, ultimately ending in a discussion of the merits of the remodel and the city options regarding the remodel with Webb, Pinkerton and a city attorney.

But the t’s were crossed and the i’s dotted.

“There’s really no discretion for the city not to approve this project,” Webb said, adding later, “It’s right up against that line and we checked and double-checked the requirements.”

The City Council is due in coming months to take another look at so-called mini-dorms. But the issue is fraught with traps.

“If we change the zoning rules to do social engineering, it could have unintended consequences,” Webb said.

On March 5, 2003, the City Council wrestled with just those worries, coming up with a “large-house ordinance” to rule over mini-dorms and proscribe how much larger a house could become and what kinds of amenities the house could have. The council split on the issue 4-1 with Councilwoman Sue Greenwald pushing for a smaller floor-to-area ratio.

— Reach Dave Ryan at dryan@davisenterprise.net or call 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews

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