How an Architect Evaluates Lots in San Diego for Development

By Sean Canning

As a licensed architect in San Diego and principal at Ten Seventy Architecture, I delve into the complex yet rewarding process of assessing the development potential of residential zoned lots. This blog post is a walkthrough of my personal approach to evaluating a lot for development, using one of my personal properties in the City as a case study.

Understanding the Basics: Initiating the Evaluation Process

Laying the Groundwork

When I start evaluating a lot, I am embarking on a journey of discovery. I begin by gathering the essential details of the property. This step involves measuring the dimensions of the lot using reliable tools like Google Earth. It's not just about the length and width; it’s about understanding the space as a canvas for potential construction. I scrutinize the lot for existing structures that may influence future design decisions — a two-bedroom house that echoes stories of the past or a makeshift structure that signifies impermanence.

Visualizing the Lot

Visualization is key. Using the measurement tool in Google Earth, I sketch out the possible layouts, envisioning where new structures could rise within the confines of the lot's boundaries. I consider the existing trees, the slope of the land, and even the quality of light at different times of the day. These elements are not merely obstacles but are characteristics that shape the design narrative.

Digging Deeper: Zoning and Regulations

Deciphering Zoning Classifications and Their Implications

Zoning classifications are the rulebook that guides what can be built on a lot. Ensuring the lot isn't within a coastal zone, which would necessitate additional permits, is an early step. Identifying the zoning type, such as RM-2-5, is essential because it informs the range of possible developments. I delve into the San Diego Municipal Code, understanding the permitted uses for the specific zoning designation — whether it's residential, mixed-use, or commercial.

Consulting the San Diego Municipal Code

The San Diego Municipal Code is a tome of knowledge that provides clarity on development feasibility. It informs me of the setbacks — these invisible lines that dictate the permissible distance between a structure and property boundaries. Density limits state how many units can legally be built on the lot, and height restrictions gauge how tall structures can be. These parameters form the invisible framework within which design becomes a reality.

Considering Overlay Zones and Seismic Requirements

Overlay Zones: Complexities and Opportunities

Overlay zones add another layer to the zoning puzzle. Being in a Transit Priority Area, for instance, may offer concessions on parking requirements. I also assess the lot for any geological hazard categories, indicating if seismic or soil tests are necessary, which contribute to project costs and design considerations.

Parking as a Pivotal Design Factor

Solving the Parking Puzzle

Parking is often the unsung hero in urban design. It’s a critical component that can dramatically affect the feasibility of a project. I calculate the number of required spaces based on unit count and bedrooms. This calculation isn’t merely about fitting cars; it’s about ensuring functionality and compliance with city regulations.

Decoding Parking Regulations

Understanding the nuances of parking regulations is like learning a new language. In Transit Priority Areas, opportunities may arise to reduce or eliminate parking requirements, which can be a game-changer. However, these opportunities come with their own set of complexities, such as providing alternative transportation amenities or dealing with right-of-way permits.

Maximizing Development Through ADUs

Harnessing the Power of ADUs for Development Potential

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) offer a unique opportunity to maximize development potential. I closely study the limits and opportunities presented by zoning regulations, considering affordable ADU bonuses that allow for additional units when rented at affordable rates.

Strategically Planning ADUs

Identifying spaces such as garages or storerooms for ADU conversion is a strategic move. I use the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) to determine the maximum buildable square footage while exploring bonuses available for ADU development. This ratio isn’t just a number; it’s a tool that informs how much living space can be created on the lot.

Case Study: My Personal Experience with 1873 Irving Avenue

Applying My Expertise to Real-World Scenarios

Using my own lot at 1873 Irving Avenue as a case study, I delve into its unique features — a 25-foot width, alley access, and exemption from coastal zone restrictions. I outline a potential development strategy that respects these unique features while also aiming to maximize the lot’s potential.

Crafting a Detailed Development Plan

The development plan isn’t just about adding square footage; it's about creating a space that harmonizes with its environment. I consider elements like a butterfly roof and phased construction, ensuring a balance between public and private spaces within the new development.

Concluding Thoughts: The Architect’s Role in Lot Evaluation

From Vision to Value Creation

My role extends beyond design; it's about strategic evaluation and transformation of real estate. With an in-depth understanding of local regulations, physical constraints, and development goals, I navigate through the complex process of transforming a lot into a valuable asset.

Extending an Invitation for Collaboration

If you're considering a lot purchase or development in San Diego, my expertise is at your disposal. Click here to schedule a consultation with me.

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