The Sunnyvale City Council on April 8 approved a blanket increase to height limits for medium-density residential zoning districts to unify the city’s policy for townhouse and non-townhouse projects. The ordinance modifies the height limit for non-townhouse developments from two stories and 30 feet to match the standard for townhouse developments at three stories and 35 feet. “This is a very straightforward thing for us to go ahead and look at from a policy perspective,” Councilman Glenn Hendricks said at the April 8 council meeting. “It goes ahead and makes the policy much clearer for the policy makers to understand, makes it a lot easier for the public and developers to understand what is being expected to go on, so I think this just clarifies and simplifies the process.”
The change has been discussed by previous Sunnyvale councils since 2005, when the city council decided to tackle deviations from the height requirement on a case-by-case basis. In 2006, the council decided to give preference to townhouse projects with the belief that they would more likely be sold as ownership housing, and increasing the height requirement to three stories and 35 feet would encourage the development of more ownership housing. Since then, 24 R-3 projects have been reviewed by the planning commission, according to city staff. In half of those cases, an exception to the height limit was approved, both for the 30-foot requirement for non-townhouse projects and the 35-foot requirement for townhouses. Deviations ranged from 33 feet for non-townhouses to 40 feet for townhouses. City staff and council members agreed that a blanket height requirement for medium-density housing was necessary to create a consistent policy.
If a developer includes underground parking, a project may exceed the maximum height limitation for the zoning district. The extension above the height limit may equal the depth of the underground parking, not to exceed 5 feet in total. The Sunnyvale City Council also voted to incorporate new design guidelines for when height deviations would be appropriate. According to a survey of height limits in other cities for zones that are similar to medium residential in allowable density, the average of the cities evaluated is about 38 feet, city staff reported.
The final vote was 6-1, with Councilman Pat Meyering dissenting. Meyering argued the survey was not objective in that it included cities such as San Leandro and Concord, and that cities closer to Sunnyvale, such as Cupertino and Santa Clara, have height requirements of 30 feet.