Doubts and debate over planning definition

As depicted in this City-drafted diagram outlining changes in a proposed site coverage rule, 50 percent of driveway serving a garage (center) — and 100 percent of additional paving and parking areas outside of driveway serving a garage (left) — will count as site coverage. (City of Winters/Courtesy graphic)

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Winters’ site coverage definition is up in the air.

The Winters Planning Commission rejected a resolution of proposed amendments to increase site coverage based on environmental concerns at the Aug. 23 meeting. The modifications are a “community-initiated project,” according to Senior Planner Kirk Skierski, who presented the city staff report to the commission.

“More specifically, the City’s site coverage requirements do not appear to have been enforced,” the staff report reads.

It became an issue when a new resident in Winters Highland wanted to install a pool, but there was insufficient space within the site coverage limit. After considering the matter, the City Council advised Skierski to make changes to the ordinance in July, including removing swimming pools from the definition and allowing only 50 percent of residential driveways to count towards site coverage.

They also asked for a site coverage mitigation program to allow specific improvements, including foliage, to count towards site coverage reduction. But the proposed changes regarding swimming pools and driveways are unwelcome without further information regarding water run-off, according to Chair Greg Contreras.

To move forward, the Planning Commission needs to know the net effect of the proposed change, Contreras said. Without hard metrics, including how many resident pools Winters will have in the future, leaves officials in a tricky spot.

 “I am in favor of letting people do what they want with their homes as they see fit on their property, drawing the line only to the extent that it affects their neighbor,” Contreras said, adding directionally he agrees, but without more information, he can’t recommend. “When somebody’s house floods in a couple of years from now and I voted yes on this, I am going to feel pretty bad if I can’t say here’s why.”

The staff report presented to the Planning Commission members explained that green space allows for the percolation of water into the soil while trees help provide shade to reduce the “heat island effect.” According to the report, trees and landscaping also improve property values and help beautify residential areas, and cities adopt minimum site coverage standards for aesthetic and environmental reasons.

“We have seen that some of these smaller lots larger homes get near our 50 percent maximum for single stories and 45 percent for two stories or more,” Skierski said, noting the difference between the proposed and present ordinance.

Like Contreras, increasing impervious coverage without further study is unacceptable to Vice-Chair Lisa Baker, who questioned the new lot coverage and impervious surface changes. Without advice from the Climate Change Commission or other engineers, Baker said she could not make any recommendations.

“I worry in regards to run-off,” she said, noting Winters’ residents understand a little rain becomes a big issue in regards to creek outflows. “We are not strangers to flooding.”

The only research city staff completed was the review of adjacent jurisdictions, including Dixon, Vacaville, West Sacramento, Davis and Williams, looking over zoning ordinances and how the cities define and implement site coverage.

 “Almost all those do not include driveways or pools within their definition, and the city of  Winters had a more restrictive definition of the site covered compared to them,” Skierski said. “This step would put us a little bit more in line with our neighboring jurisdictions.”

Writing in her public comment, resident Valarie Whitworth wanted to know how and when the historical 30-year discussion ended regarding area storm flows and the overall development of the northwest Winters corner.

 “At that time, residents adjacent to that dry creek expressed concerns about potential impacts of development on the flows into the Dry Creek and requested that the city provide information about run-off impacts into the creek from new developments,” she wrote.

Site coverage policies should not be changed, and no further hardscape coverage allowed until all parties are satisfied, according to the resident.

 “There will be no damage to citizens and residents now within the city boundaries,” Whitworth wrote. “Without this information, the city risks the safety of Winters’ citizens’ houses and land.”

Commissioner Chris Rose agreed.

Gravel water recharge has never been more critical, according to the board member, whose professional career is in natural resources and infiltration. He said he sits in groundwater recharge and impervious surface meetings daily that entail “trying to allow as much water to get into the ground as possible.”

After presenting the risks from a professional side, Rose shared the personal benefits the ordinance would offer if approved. 

 “I think we all lean towards wanting to be able to do what we want with our properties,” Rose added.

 Skierski suggested formalizing the deliberation and returning it to the city council, with Baker making it official. 

 “I move that the Planning Commission recommends to the City Council that they do additional research in due diligence regarding the net effect of the changes to ensure we are making good public policy,” Baker said.

The rejection of the resolution sends Skierski and his team back to the drawing board to gain further information on adjacent jurisdiction’s implementation and definition of site coverage.

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