Sunday, January 27, 2008

Town of Chevy Chase FAR Incentives

This post outlines the incentives for which homeowners can receive a higher FAR and thus build a larger house under the proposed ordinance currently before the Town Council. It relies heavily on the Land Use Committee's report and the worksheet on calculating FAR provided by the Town. (In a previous post, I explained Floor-Area Ratio (FAR) and how it is measured for purposes of the Town of Chevy Chase's proposed ordinance.)

The Basic Idea

Through the use of incentives, the permitted FAR can rise from .30 to .45 for additions and .50 for new construction. The central goal of the incentive program to encourage the construction of new homes that fit with the existing character of the Town yet provide homeowners a great deal of flexibility in deciding how to construct their home. There are a variety of incentives and homeowners can select which ones, if any, they would like to meet in order to receive additional FAR.

A key advantage of this approach is that it avoids the creation of some sort of design or review board which would rule on the aesthetics of each home. At the same time, it provides a set of incentives to construct homes which fit within the Town's current character for people who would like to receive additional FAR (i.e. build larger homes relative to the lot size).

Homeowners can build any home they like which is already permitted under existing law and meets the new height limit--two feet lower than the current County limit--at an FAR of .30. They can construct an even larger home depending on how many additional incentives are met. Some incentives are quite easy to meet; others will probably be met by relatively few people but exist to promote a particular goal (e.g. historic preservation).

However, one can receive the maximum permitted FAR by meeting different combinations of incentives so no one has to meet all of them or is expected to do so. For example, additional FAR is awarded for several different types of garages, for example, because there are multiple types which fit within the existing character of the Town.

One hopes that the use of well-defined bright-line incentives would help limit the number of variance hearings. If a proposed construction plan meets the incentives, it receives the additional FAR. Variances would not be granted for an inability to meet a particular incentive because no home (or lot) is expected to be able to meet all of them and there is a choice among incentives. Of course, nothing would prevent the Town Council from granting variances if the proposed plan furthers the general goals of the ordinance. And don't forget that all homeowners are guaranteed a certain minimum square footage no matter how small the lot.

Proposed Incentives in the Ordinance

The biggest incentive is for building an addition instead of tearing down the old house and building a new one. The permitted level of FAR rise by .05 for construction of an addition.

Additionally, homeowners can receive credits, and an increase in FAR of .01 for each credit, for a variety of other criteria listed below. Again, one doesn't have to meet all, or even most, of the criteria. Instead, one can pick and choose. No matter how many criteria are met, the maximum FAR is .45 for a completely new home and .50 for home with an addition.

Tree Canopy (2 points are possible)
  • Retain all healthy shade trees over a certain size.
  • Plant a new shade tree. (You must also retain all healthy shade trees.)
Open Space (5 points are possible)
  • No more than 10% of the front yard is covered by non-vegetative surface.
  • No more than 40% of the lot is covered by non-vegetative surface.
  • Building coverage (buildings, pool, deck, for example) if 25% or less. (If the coverage is 20% or less, you may get a credit for this incentive and the next one.)
  • Building coverage (buildings, pool, deck, for example) if 20% or less. (If you meet this requirement, you also get a credit for the previous one.)
  • Donation of a conservation easement.
Building Elements (18 points are possible)
  • Historic landmark designation.
  • A two story or less house, rather than a two and a half story house.
  • The roof gable orientation is the same as others on the block if 60% of the block has a similar orientation.
  • No portion of the front wall is more than 34 feet long. If a house is more than 34 feet wide, you may still receive a credit if there are indentions along the front of the house that mean no one wall surface is more than 34 feet.
  • No portion of either side wall is more than 34 feet long. If a house is more than 34 feet deep, you may still receive credits if there are indentions along either side of the house that mean no one wall surface is more than 34 feet. (Each side of the house could get a credit, so two credits are possible.)
  • An unenclosed front porch with a minimum size of 6’ deep and 10’ wide.
  • An unenclosed side porch with a minimum size of 6’ deep and 10’ wide.
  • A wraparound porch where the front portion meets the standard and the side portion is at least 50% of it (2 credits).
  • An entry feature that is at least 3’ deep and has a roof. (If the front porch standard is met, you also receive this credit.)
  • A one story element of at least 8’ x 10’ (a small enclosed room) on the front, side or back of the house (up to 4 credits possible).
  • No projections (porches, stoops, bay windows, etc.) are made into either side yard setback other than a chimney.
Garages and Driveways
  • A walkway goes from the front of the house to the street and is not part of a driveway.
  • A shared driveway is maintained and there is no other driveway on the lot.
  • A side entry attached garage is maintained or built. (Note that credits may be received for only one of the three garage standards.)
  • A detached garage of no more than 240 square feet is maintained or built.
  • Only one story above a front loading cellar garage.