Jan. 10, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Regulations governing fences, sheds, walls and perhaps even doghouses could be changing for Ojai homeowners.
“Tonight is a discussion of whether there is interest at the council level in making some changes to our zoning code to clarify certain regulations that are a challenge both to our staff and the public,” Ojai Community Development Director Rob Mullane told the Ojai City Council at its meeting Tuesday.
“So the question here is, do we have codes that are workable? Do we have development standards that make sense, that really give clarity not just to staff, but to the public?” said Mullane. “The question that is before Council this evening is, does the Council feel we ought to be either tightening up our standards or providing different standards than what are there right now, which have been problematic for these two areas?”
Among Mullane’s chief concerns were the lack of guidelines regarding the height, size and number of structures allowed in backyards; the regulations regarding the location and height of fences, many of which require variances because of overly-strict guidelines; and the ban on any accessory structures in backyard setbacks.
“In my view, we are actually lucky we have not had more very challenging applications coming before the staff,” said Mullane. “We have a prohibition on any structures in the rear-yard setback, which is a little unusual in that it does not differentiate between structures that require a building permit and those that do not. So theoretically a doghouse in the rear-yard setback is illegal.”
“Most cities allow at least small structures like tool sheds in the setback, but we don’t,” explained Ojai City Manager Rob Clark in a recent interview. “In neighborhoods with small homes and small lots with little storage, this is a legitimate need. On the other hand, most cities also have limits on the size for accessory structures that are smaller than the main house, whether or not they are in a setback. Also they tend to have limits on the number of accessory buildings and lot coverage. Ojai has none of this either. We have had some code complaints and felt the policy should be addressed before we go out enforcing.”
Ojai resident Kathy Zotnowski, who has had a zoning complaint filed against her by a neighbor, told the Council she feels the rules are not being enforced uniformly.
“Currently at least two City Council members, the city manager, the city inspector, these 50 neighbors and a minimum of 100 neighbors all within a few blocks of our home all have accessory structures in violation of these same setbacks.”
Ojai resident Bob Daddi, who also has had zoning issues with the city, told the Council, “I don’t want staff to come up with the standards, I want the public to come up with the standards. I have been asking for five years for you to come in and amend these codes. They are confusing, they are contradictory and they are erratically enforced.”
“I am one of the reasons this is on the agenda,” stated Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel. “And what I am looking for is clarification. If we cannot understand our codes, we cannot follow them. City Council I don’t believe to be qualified to make some of these decisions,” Strobel added. “The Planning Commission is more qualified. Staff is more qualified. I am saying we have had problems here; let’s look at it. … It is a good idea for our community to take some responsibility for these things.”
“I would be in favor of looking at potential changes to our zoning code,” noted Councilman Severo Lara, “But I am not going to get into details, because what I would really like — what I think would be smart — is to get as much public participation as possible. I don’t want the city to be like police, I don’t want friction between the city and its citizens. We are here to serve the community.”
“I’m open to whatever comes back from the Planning Commission,” agreed Mayor Paul Blatz. “This is an opportunity for the public to be extremely involved in creating a section of our zoning codes, our laws, that has a direct effect on them. It’s not often you can do that.”
The Council directed city staff to schedule a public hearing through the Ojai Planning Commission to try to bring clarity to the issue.