A Density Discussion on a Very Small Scale

Are more units always, sometimes, or never better?
Mr. Fox

The south side of the 1700 block of Catharine Street is lined with three-story homes and uniquely, the north side has basketball courts and a swimming pool associated with the Marian Anderson Rec Center in lieu of houses. Most of the homes on the block have turned over in the last decade, and are ostensibly owner-occupied. A handful of rentals dot the block as well.

South side of the block
North side

Last week, at the monthly SOSNA zoning meeting, developers presented a proposal to rehab 1726 Catharine St., one of the less attractive homes you'll see, unless you love vinyl siding. Initially, they hoped to turn the property into a triplex but before the meeting they amended the application to instead create two apartments. The were refused because 1) the block is zoned for single family homes, and 2) they proposed a rear addition that would have resulted in a too-small backyard.

1726 Catharine St.

Most of the feedback, both from the community and the zoning committee, was not favorable. With few apartments, if any, on the block, neighbors didn't want the single-family nature of the street to be compromised. Since the smaller yard was a result of the use as a duplex, people were not pleased about that aspect as well. And with the home two doors down having been recently renovated and sold for $620K, we don't know that the developers can make a case for economic hardship in this situation.

1730 Catharine St. just sold

But what about from a planning perspective? By reputation, renters are less preferable to homeowners for many neighbors. Supposedly, renters are very transient, and don't care about the community at-large, and don't clean up in front of their homes. But these stereotypes are just that. Almost everybody starts as a renter, and plenty of homeowners who don't necessarily want renters next door were probably exemplary tenants who indeed cared about their neighborhood.

We wonder, would a little more density be such a crime here? South Street West is just starting to really hit its stride. Businesses are started to finally fill in corner commercial spaces in the neighborhood. These places need customers! Two three-bedroom apartments would surely provide local businesses with more customers than a single family home. And for a neighborhood to have more commercial amenities, it needs enough local customers to sustain those businesses. It's a trade-off that ought to be carefully considered by the Planning Commission, but remapping efforts are not looking at things in such a granular, block-by-block way, to our knowledge.

What do you think? Should the single-family nature of certain blocks be preserved? Does the conversion of some single-family homes into apartments ruin the character of those blocks? Or is it not such a big deal, and do you welcome more people if possible, to patronize local businesses?