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Wider Sideyards for Homes Urged

Housing: Design officials say it will improve the appearance of new neighborhoods, but developers warn of increased prices.


SIMI VALLEY — Neighbors can sometimes be too close for comfort, and wider sideyards are needed for greater privacy in new homes, members of a city design committee say.

They will present their proposal for wider sideyards at the Planning Commission's meeting Wednesday, saying the move would also improve a housing tract's look.

But developers and planning officials argue that the change could drive up housing costs and waste valuable land that could be used to build more homes. Simi Valley is among six Ventura County cities where voters have approved growth-control Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources laws that limit development outside city boundaries.

"With or without SOAR, a place like Simi Valley has to use its remaining land very wisely," said William Fulton, a state planning expert. "That's why designing your way out of problems instead of making things farther apart from each other is more important."

City law allows developers to keep sideyard setbacks--the distance from the side of a house to the property line--at 5 feet for one-story homes and 6 feet for two-story homes, said Paul Scheibel, a senior planner with the city.

The proposed change would dictate that developers create 6-foot sideyard setbacks for single-story homes and up to 10 feet for two-story homes, he said.

A committee of two City Council members, two planning commissioners, developers and community members began studying the city's residential design guidelines in May. City leaders regularly hear from residents who want greater privacy and better aesthetics on neighborhood streets, said Councilman Steve Sojka, who served on the committee. Increasing sideyard setbacks is a step in the right direction, he said.

"I think it's going to enhance the quality of developments that come before us in the future," Sojka said. "It ensures the quality of life for our residents for years to come."

House hunters Debbie and Dan Thornhill would appreciate more room. They have been shopping for a Simi Valley home for three years and found most homes are too close to neighbors for their taste.

"You'd look in the kitchen a lot of times and you're looking into the other person's kitchen," said Debbie Thornhill, who has lived in a rented one-story house on Julie Circle for seven years. "I want to walk around the way I want to walk around. I want to have things open and not have my neighbors looking in on me."

If the city changes its requirements, consumers will probably pay a price, developers say.

"The number of homes we can build in a subdivision will be less," said Wayne Colmer, president of Colmer Development, which is building two small Simi Valley subdivisions. "It varies based on cost of land and the sales price of a house, but it will definitely increase the price of homes."

He estimated costs could rise as much as 10%. The median price of a new home in Simi Valley for the third quarter of this year was $260,000. One way to keep costs from spiraling would be to either reduce the size of the house or cut back on space allotted for front- and backyards, city officials said.

Fulton doesn't see the attraction in doing so.

"I'd rather live in a house that has no side window but a really great private backyard than live in one where everything is kind of private but [small]," he said.

Colmer, who served on the committee that came up with the proposal, said he agrees.

"I think with good architecture you can get a varied street scene that's attractive," even with the current sideyard widths, he said.

Many home buyers are saying otherwise, said Allan Mann, a real estate broker with Troop Real Estate in Simi Valley.

"It's one of the biggest complaints I have from my buyers," Mann said. "After a short period of time they realize there is a true lack of privacy. They bought a single-family home and realize they still have the same lack of privacy as a condominium."

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