In Greater Washington, we hear all kinds of arguments against new development. But sometimes arguments drift into lifestyle issues: the apartments are too small, the location is too loud, or the tenants wouldn’t appropriately invest themselves in the community.
While unfair, this might be expected from the public. However, when policymakers start to consider their own preferences when making decisions, as in the region’s debate about accessory dwellings, they tread on dangerous ground.
In Berkeley, California, officials are using lifestyle concerns to fight a proposed building with 70 “micro-units,” or studio apartments ranging in size between 307 and 344 square feet. The building is close to UC Berkeley, walking distance to a hot commercial strip and BART, and adjacent to major bus routes. It would be built on what is now a fairly ugly vacant lot, and contribute $1.4 million to the city’s affordable housing fund. And it would be just 60 feet tall, not much higher than its neighbors.
Nearby neighbors aren’t happy with it, citing the height and the proximity to detached housing nearby, which aren’t unusual complaints. But they also object to the size of the units and the relative lack of activities in the neighborhood. Zoning commissioner Sophie Hahn concurred, comparing the units to “penitentiary housing” and said there wasn’t enough room for “intimacy.”