What can go where in San Luis Obispo, and how can it be used?

The city is refining the answers to those and related questions as it updates its zoning regulations this summer. The Chamber is weighing in, and we encourage you to get involved, too.

If you think that zoning doesn’t affect you – or that it’s a giant regulatory snoozefest – read on to see some of the issues the Chamber’s zoning task force has been digging into the last several months.

The task force will make recommendations to the Planning Commission before its final review June 13 and 14. The City Council is scheduled to take action Aug. 21. Please join us in pushing for updates key to realizing the community’s vision for the city as laid out in the General Plan. (Zoning? General Plan? What’s all that you say? Skim our handy primer to get up to speed.)

Streamline categories

What’s the difference between Convenience Stores, Corner Commercial and Convenience Retail? It’s not clear. And how do those differ from Retail Sales or Food and Beverage Sales?

The task force supports the city’s plan to consolidate six separate office categories into just two (Business and Professional Office, Medical and Dental Office). But there remain significant opportunities to make additional designations easier to understand and use, whether by combining categories or clarifying differences.

A stark example: Sacramento Drive is zoned for Manufacturing on one side and Commercial Services on the other. Maybe this made sense at one time, but today, the road is lined with nearly identical buildings providing parking and a place to work. Is it reasonable to dictate which specific business activities take place on which side of the street? We think not.

Promote affordable housing

It’s no secret that San Luis Obispo needs more affordable housing. What can be done through zoning?

Some lots, especially in the southwest part of the city, could offer more housing than currently allowed under their R2 zoning. The task force recommends maximizing those lots through strategic rezoning to allow for more density.

We support other adjustments including streamlining review processes and taking advantage of already-approved height regulations to maximize the use of parcels small and large as we aim to grow in and up rather than out. This would both open up and speed opportunities to build more housing.

In downtown, requiring that at least 20 percent of units in a new development be 600 square feet or less would increase the stock of smaller, more affordable units.

Modernizing zoning codes to consider physical design and character rather than land use also could open up more opportunities for smaller housing units. So-called form-based codes recognize cities as mixed-use places and focus on things like building-to-street relationships.

Keep the downtown core vibrant

As evolving shopping trends affect the demand for retail storefronts, downtown must continue to attract residents and visitors alike to ensure it remains vibrant and economically viable.

Allowing more ground-floor offices would bring additional people to the street on a daily basis, the task force notes.

Extending downtown development standards, with downstairs commercial, upstairs residential and attractive design, up Monterey Street to Pepper Street and along Higuera Street south of downtown to Madonna Road would increase the appeal of those areas.

Rethink parking

The way people get around has changed, with the rise of ride-sharing, cycling and other modes of transit, but requirements for providing parking have not.

The task force urges the city to reduce those requirements where appropriate. That includes adopting the new lower state regulations for home stay and separate units within a building.

“Spillover” parking in residential neighborhoods also must be addressed as the city works toward the goal of a more walkable and bicycle friendly community.