First, a quick history: Riverside County’s land use and zoning ordinance (348) dates to 1948. In the past 66 years, various Boards of Supervisors have approved nearly 5,500 amendments to the ordinance.
“Late last year, the board asked the development staff to undertake a comprehensive re-work of the ordinance,” said Planner David Mares. The changes are intended to make the county more business friendly and encourage economic activity.
The Planning staff has organized the revisions into three phases. The first phase includes changes to Section 18.18, which addresses “Detached Accessory Buildings” and has a significant effect on Hill properties, according to local designers and real estate agents.
The current language of this section allows detached buildings, for instance garages, to be built close to the property line. A June draft of the changes to Section 18.18 would have eliminated the provision. The county Transportation Department is concerned about vehicles backing directly onto roadways and recommended its deletion, according to Mares. But that proposal was revised.
At the Sept. 17 meeting of the county Planning Commission, Mares drafted a revision that allows a garage to be built to the front or side property lines. However, the lot must have a slope of 1 foot rise or fall in 7 feet, or the lot’s frontage must be more than 4 feet above or below the street elevation and if the building prevents vehicles from directly exiting to the street.
Despite the effort to find a compromise, both architect Jim Marsh and Chris Davis, head of the Idyllwild Association of Realtors, object to this language.
“[Regarding] the new phrase that you are considering adding … Of the garages where I have utilized this section (and the hundred plus I have seen in Idyllwild), there is not even one where it would have been allowed under the new wording,” Marsh told the Planning Commission in a September correspondence. “This new wording renders Section 18.18.B.2 useless.”
The Planning Commission asked for these proposals to be carried over to its Oct. 15 meeting. As of Friday, Mares expects no changes in the language before this meeting, although that is still possible, he said.
When the initial proposal to simply delete the option appeared, both David Lilieholm, an Idyllwild building designer, and Marsh, an architect, contacted the commission with objections.
“I’ve been a home designer in the Idyllwild area for 25 years and have many times had to rely on this provision as the only way to allow construction of a garage on certain properties,” Lilieholm wrote Mares in July. “Given how common these steep properties are and coupled with the often-difficult snow conditions up here, I think (and obviously the code originally agreed) that the zero setback in certain conditions is a very reasonable allowance.”
Lilieholm explained that the slope on many properties prevents building a garage except near the property line and street. He also believes there is a misconception that many garages are right on the street. “This should be looked at on a case-by-case basis to see if traffic is an issue,” Liliehholm recommended and noted. “This really would have an impact on a lot of properties up here.”
Both men support the existing provision and were skeptical of the public safety issue as a reason for deleting it. “I have been working in Idyllwild for 30 years and I have seen over a hundred garages that are on, or close to, the front property line. I do not know of one accident or safety concern due to any of these agencies,” Marsh wrote the Planning Commission in August.
Davis stressed his view that prohibiting garages on some properties because of their proximity to the street would affect the ability of some residents to access their cars during bad weather. “This is a quality-of-life issue,” he told the commission.
The next Planning Commission meeting, where the proposed changes to Ordinance 348 will be on the agenda, is 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 15, in the Board Chambers on the first floor of the county’s Administrative Center in Riverside.