Since 2015, Winters has been experiencing its most recent building boom. Hundreds of new homes have been built with hundreds more on the way.
Earlier this year, new homebuyer Sue Davis learned of a site coverage ordinance in the City of Winters’ municipal code that prohibited her from obtaining a building permit to install an in-ground swimming pool. The issue was first presented to council at the April 19 City Council meeting during public comment and reported on in the Express on June 8.
The ordinance is intended to limit the amount of impervious surface area so rainwater and runoff water can percolate and replenish aquifers rather than evaporate away or flow through drains.
The problem for Davis, who bought her home in July 2021, is that unbeknownst to her, the home was built exceeding the City’s site coverage allowance for impermeable area. Consequently, the City wouldn’t issue her a building permit to install an in-ground swimming pool.
The City of Winters defines site coverage as, “The percentage of a lot or site collectively covered by a roof, solid surface deck or patio, paved driveway and parking area, sports courts, swimming pools and other similar impervious improvements.”
Under the City’s municipal code, this meant Davis, who always intended to install a swimming pool and even received pool builder recommendations from the developer’s sales agent during the buying process, could not do so.
Exacerbating her frustration even further, Davis said her neighbor at the end of her street with the same model and size home on the same size lot did receive a building permit in 2019 and installed an in-ground pool.
In June, the Express reviewed swimming pool permits for homes in the new housing developments where in-ground pools were known to have been installed. The review found permits had been issued where site coverage exceeded the 50/50 municipal code allowance and pools were installed.
The issue came up on the July 5 City Council agenda. Senior Planner Kirk Skierski acknowledged recent citizen and builder site coverage concerns and said, “Due to the configuration of the planning division over the last several years it is likely that site coverage was not fully enforced — likely overlooked during the building permit process.”
Skierski presented council with three options:
1. Change the City’s “Site Coverage” definition;
2. Increase maximum site coverage requirements within the Zoning Ordinance;
3. Develop a Site Coverage Reduction Program.
Skierski explained that other options or a combination of the three were possible.
As a staff recommendation, Skierski said, “Removing driveways from the site coverage definition would likely address all the concerns that we’re hearing from the public and business community.”
Lori Hamel of Cookie Cutter Pools wrote to council that their company had two disappointed customers in the Heartland neighborhood who, due to site restrictions, could not get pool permits.
“We have honestly never seen anything like this before in any other city or county and we have built residential pools in over 30 jurisdictions since 2007,” Hamel said urging council to remove pools and driveways from the site coverage definition.
Councilmember Pierre Neu approached the issue cautiously, saying, “I just want to look at this a little deeper.”
Mayor Wade Cowan responded, “Just simply taking out pools and driveways, I think, gets us more in line with surrounding communities…”
“We could take a deeper dive into this beyond the initial change,” Cowan said and suggested staff refer the issue through the city’s Natural Resources Commission and Planning Commission for input and to find acceptable reductions to site coverage. He also said in the future the City might consider being tougher on developers.
City Manager Kathleen Salguero Trepa told council it would require notice and two public hearings, first with the Planning Commission and then the City Council, then a second council reading followed by a 30-day waiting period after adoption before becoming effective. “It is not a quick process, it would probably take three months,” she said.
After further council discussion, Cowan made the motion to remove swimming pools and 50 percent of driveways from the site coverage definition. Councilmember Jesse Loren seconded and it carried unanimously.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 19 at 6:30 p.m. in a hybrid format.
Meeting details and past meeting recordings can be found on the City Council page at cityofwinters.org.