Morro Bay City Council OKs residential design guidelines

Morro Bay’s City Council has approved interim residential design guidelines that aim to prevent construction of monstrous homes near neighboring, modest dwellings.

The new one-year policy — approved Tuesday in a 4-0 vote, with Councilman Matt Makowetski absent — intends to provide more clarity on what types of new developments and home expansions are appropriate.

For example, the policy directs new designs to match the scale and mass of neighboring homes.

“If the homes in a neighborhood are 1,000 square feet, a new 5,000-square-foot home probably doesn’t fit in,” said Scot Graham, the city’s community development director. The policy also provides guidance on street improvements, building material, architectural style, landscaping and setbacks.

However, some of the advocates say the direction — and city planning on the issue — doesn’t go far enough.

“I think it’s a diversion, a do-nothing document,” said Betty Winholtz, a Morro Bay resident and former council member. “It’s nebulous. It’s a should, not a shall. I think there needs to be a clearly defined ordinance so there’s no confusion about what a ‘big home’ and what a ‘little home’ means.”

Winholtz said she has supported the Neighborhood Compatibility Coalition group, also known as NECCO, which unsuccessfully sought a moratorium on building in April until specific guidelines could be implemented to clarify vague language that had often confused both developers and opponents of projects.

NECCO has lobbied specifically for a policy that would prohibit new homes or expansions from blocking neighbors’ views. That hasn’t been implemented in either existing code or the new guidelines.

“Other communities have addressed this issue,” Winholtz said. “Other communities have language about shared viewshed. It’s not for the benefit of one, but for several.”

Some of the key points of the interim design guidelines are:

Other guidelines include residential landscaping with drought-tolerant plants that require little to no fertilizer and noninvasive plant species. Also, plants shouldn’t unnecessarily obstruct views.

Another resident, Barbara Doerr, said she wanted more specifics on a “developable box” through front, side and rear setbacks; lot area coverage standards; and grading on hillsides.

“I think each of those three should be well defined,” Doerr said.

The guidelines were formed over the past 10 months from nine separate hearings on the topic held by the Morro Bay Planning Commission. The guidelines may be extended, or modified, after a year, with the intent to integrate them into the city’s General Plan and Coastal Plan Update.

Graham estimates they’ll be completed over the next two-and-a-half to three years.

“We’ll implement (the approved policy) for the next 12 months, test drive it, see what we like and what we don’t like,” Graham said.