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Code change for affordable housing could reduce yard sizes for future Rochester homes

Proposed Unified Development Code seeks to provide flexibility in lot sizes as way to address potential home prices and supply.

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Homes in the Pebble Creek subdivision on the northwest edge of Rochester are being built on smaller lot sizes, which would be an option in more areas under the proposed Rochester Unified Development Code.
Randy Petersen/Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER – The cost of opening the door to affordable housing could be smaller yards.

The concern was raised Monday as the Rochester City Council reviewed the latest work on a new Unified Development Code.

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“You end up creating neighborhoods without green space,” Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said.

While standard single-family residential lots in many existing neighborhoods will be at least 5,000 square feet, other residential areas, including newly annex developments, will be able to reduce lot sizes to 3,000 square feet.

Don Elliot, a director with Denver-based Clarion Associates, said the potential for smaller lot sizes is intended to address the desire for more affordable housing in the city.

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“It allows more single-family housing to be developed on a given amount of land, which reduces land cost per house,” said the consultant tapped by the city to help create the new code.

Rochester Deputy Director of Community Development Ryan Yetzer said that doesn’t mean developers won’t be allowed to build homes on larger lots, but it will provide flexibility.

“What we are trying to do is present options and let the developers meet the needs of the market,” he said.

Council member Mark Bransford said he worries the flexibility will drive to more dense housing, especially the new code’s approach to setting limits.

“The reality is we have really high land costs,” he said. “We’ve approved luxury apartment building after luxury apartment building with not enough affordable rentals.”

Elliot said directly addressing rent prices through a city development code is difficult.

“The only real way to bring down rents is to have supply expand faster than demand,” he said, adding that Rochester’s thriving economy means housing demand is outpacing supply.

He said the proposed code seeks to provide potential for creating more supply, while also being more predictable for developers and neighborhoods.

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While the new code aims to provide flexibility, Elliot and Yetzer said limits will still exist.

Residential areas will require homes and other structures to be setback from property lines, and height limits will continue to exist based on zoning. While the new code is also expected to allow construction of secondary housing units on a property, it does limit the use for an accessory structures to 35% of the property that is not occupied by the primary home.

“We do mandate that there is still an open area on a lot,” Yetzer said.

Council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick said she worries that reducing required lot sizes will limit opportunities for future homeowners, who would have yards that are drastically reduced from what are seen in existing neighborhoods.

“I’m really concerned about that,” she said.

Yetzer said the council could consider adjusting the proposed development code to increase required lots, but it would come at a cost.

“The harsh reality is the bigger the lot, the more expensive the housing is,” he said.

Elliot pointed to another possible adjustment to the proposed code, which would be to require larger setbacks from a property line or reduce the allowed buildable percentage of the property, but he said the option would either increase cost or limit the size of a home that could be built.

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Deputy City Administrator Cindy Steinhauser said the Community Development team is seeking a balance that provides flexibility, but the proposals also would encourage creating communities that leverage existing public green space.

She said past development of large lots dominated by front-facing garages discouraged neighborhood interactions, but studies show neighbors with small lots who rely on city parks and other amenities for recreation make connections.

“You build community in that way,” she said,

Yetzer and Elliot said it’s a balance that will likely continue to be discussed as the development code moves toward anticipated City Council approval in August and implementation in January.

“I wish there was a silver bullet to answer the question about how we get affordable housing and how we get plenty of green space for everybody,” Yetzer said.

Community meetings planned

Rochester Community Development staff have scheduled a series of community activities for engagement regarding the Unified Development Code.

They are:

  • 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 24 in Peace Plaza
  • 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 26 in Peace Plaza
  • 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. May 26 in the Galleria food court, 111 S. Broadway Ave.
  • 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 13 in Cascade Lake Park, 88 23rd Ave. SW
  • 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 14 in Silver Lake Park’s Three Links Playground, 1098 Seventh St. NE
  • 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 15 in Lincolnshire Park, 5276 Members Pkwy NW
  • 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 16 in Cooke Park, 722 Seventh St. NW

What happened: The Rochester City Council reviewed the latest information on the proposed Unified Development Code

Why does this matter: The code will provide a guide for future devleopment in the city.

What's next: A series of community events are planned to discuss the proposed code with Rochester residents ahead of a planned final review by the City Council in August.


Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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