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Read more about the recovery from the October wildfires: nbbj.news/recovery

This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com.

Santa Rosa took another step Thursday toward making it easier for people to rebuild their burned homes, tweaking setback rules that potentially could have proven an unexpected obstacle for more than a thousand homeowners.

People seeking to rebuild in Coffey Park and, to a lesser degree, Fountaingrove, realized earlier this year when they applied for city permits that in many cases their lots contained strict setbacks. Some required them to build in the same footprint of the former home.

The city estimates that 29 different subdivisions containing 1,537 lots have such issues.

But the Planning Commission gave city staff the ability to waive those setbacks and adopt less restrictive ones that similar homes in other parts of the city enjoy.

“For everybody who is trying to rebuild, this is going to make the process simpler, more reliable, faster and more friendly to people who are trying to start a new dream,” Chairman Casey Edmonson said.

Builder Tom Snyder said he ran into this issue on about a dozen of the 17 homes he’s rebuilding in Coffey Park. It has been frustrating to have this issue hold up the rebuilding process, Snyder said, but he’s pleased to see the city work it out.

“Getting here has not been quick. It’s been a complex legal issue,” he said.

Prior to 1987, when the rules were changed, final subdivision maps were regularly recorded with setbacks and building envelopes specific to each lot.

The setbacks listed on the subdivision map filed with the city were effectively “custom zoning” that takes precedence over the city’s zoning code, explained Gabe Osburn, the city’s development services deputy director.

“They really had no flexibility,” Osburn said of people trying to rebuild in the Coffey Creek Estates, one of the subdivisions most affected by the issue.

Instead of making each property owner go through the time and expense of hiring a civil engineer or surveyor to change setbacks, city staff brought forward the solution that will allow the city engineer, David Guhin, to make them on behalf of residents.

In most cases, the setbacks for the lots will revert to whatever the city zoning code indicates for that property type, Osburn said. Most neighborhoods will see little change once rebuilt, but in places where setbacks were strict, the move “will be more impactful,” the city staff report indicated.

In some cases, instead of a 10-foot setback, homes would be allowed to be built within 5 feet of the property line, Osburn said.

Not everyone thinks it’s a great idea.

Trudy McQuiddy, who lost her Hidden Valley home in the Tubbs fire, urged the commission not to change the 25-foot front yard setbacks in her neighborhood, which she said creates “elbow room” between homes that residents prefer.

“Making these setbacks smaller would change the character of our neighborhood, making it feel more like an area of tract homes,” McQuiddy wrote in a letter to the commission.

Developers buying up lots in the area shouldn’t be allowed to build to less restrictive standards, she said.

Other residents, however, such as James Barth of Fountaingrove, called the change a “great idea.”

Read more about the recovery from the October wildfires: nbbj.news/recovery

This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com.

“This will help us place our home in a more practical position on my lot,” Barth wrote to the commission.

Several residents also said they’re getting older and want to increase the footprint of their home so they could rebuild as a single story instead of two.

Osburn said the goal is to strike a balance between creating flexibility for those rebuilding and creating consistency for the neighborhood.

The changes, which will be recorded as corrections to the subdivision maps, will be made on a case-by-case basis as development applications come in. The city will take residents’ input about the appropriate setbacks for their neighborhoods, he said.

“We’re going to be incredibly sensitive before we go down the road and record these,” Osburn said.

A similar request by a Coffey Park homeowner to allow more relaxed setbacks for home lots under 6,000 square feet was rejected Tuesday by City Council members, who said Santa Rosa already has a process to allow homeowners to obtain setback variances when warranted.

Some residents expressed concern the move, had it been approved, would have changed the character of the neighborhood, allowing homes to be built closer to the sidewalk.