The well-kept Hillcrest neighborhood is comprised chiefly of single-family homes like these. Property owners there won a rezoning this week that will limit the number of two-family homes, or duplexes, permitted in the area.
• New R-1C designation will limit home conversions
BROOKINGS – A second group of Hillcrest-area homeowners have won rezoning for their neighborhood, an action that will generally limit the conversion to duplex homes in what historically has been a single-family housing area.
The Brookings City Council approved the change at its Tuesday session.
This is the second Hillcrest homeowner group to ask for a rezoning from R-2 residential to R-1C residential, which is somewhat more restrictive.
Essentially, the homeowners’ request is a battle against “campus creep,” the takeover of neighborhoods by student renters as South Dakota State University’s enrollment increases and housing options on or near the campus become more limited.
(That’s a problem the university is addressing with more residence halls for both undergraduate and upper-level students.)
In December of last year, 18 property owners living south of Hillcrest Elementary School won rezoning for their homes, the Brookings council changing the entire neighborhood to an R-1C classification.
That mass rezoning was the first time the council used the new classification to downzone an entire neighborhood.
This week’s rezoning was for a much larger area, encompassing about 150 homes in a Hillcrest neighborhood stretching from Third Street southward to the railroad tracks, and from 17th to 13th streets. Most of the homes are south and east of the original rezoning petitioners.
More than two-thirds of the property owners in the affected area asked for the rezoning.
The reason the homeowners sought the change was simply to preserve the character of their neighborhood, which for the past half-century or more has consisted mostly of owner-occupied, single-family homes.
Many of the houses in the area are smaller properties, however, and sale prices start at about $120,000. That makes them attractive to investors and other absentee owners who purchase the homes and convert them to two-family buildings for rental to college students. The so-called “mini-dorms” often have four, five or six cars parked along the streets, causing traffic congestion.
As many as six students can legally occupy what was once a single-family home, since city regulations permit up to “three unrelated individuals” in each of the duplex units.
In the earlier Hillcrest rezoning, some of the owners argued that move-ins were changing the character and quality of their neighborhood.
That was similar to what Bill Purrington, a Hillcrest homeowner, told the council this week. He was the only community resident to speak on the issue:
“This area was built as a family area, and it’s been basically that for over 50 years. It’s close to Hillcrest school and park. The homes in the area have been and are well maintained. In short, it’s a very desirable area for families because of those factors,” he said.
“A strong majority of the property owners in this area – 99 out of 144 – signed a petition to change the zoning to R-1C, and the reason for it was to maintain the atmosphere and character of this neighborhood.”
Concluding, Purrington noted, “If you vote to change this to R-1C, it will ensure a very desirable family area for many decades to come.
Mayor Tim Reed once again made it clear to residents that the reclassification of the neighborhood affects density only. “It’s not about rentals, or property upkeep,” he said. “The question is about parking and traffic.”
R-1C zoning was added to city regulations in January 2011; planners said its intended use is to reduce population density in certain neighborhoods.
Although the new classification permits duplexes, it imposes stricter lot size requirements (more frontage and more square footage) for two-family homes.
Under the new regulations, duplexes are permitted only as a “conditional use,” which gives the neighbors greater say over what changes can take place.
Last year, the first group of Hillcrest owners appealed to the Brookings Planning Commission to help slow down the influx of renters by placing restrictions on conversions to “two-family” homes.
Several Legeros Drive neighbors testified that the greater number of student residents have dramatically increased traffic and have caused parking difficulties along residential streets.
Perhaps as important, the neighbors charged, the continuing turnover of tenants has changed the character of the neighborhood.
“Our properties are being degraded,” one owner said in December, a charge that was echoed by several who felt neighborhood property values have gone down as a result of the changes.
The rezoning change becomes effective immediately, but already-converted duplex homes are grandfathered under the new regulations.
Contact Ken Curley at kcurley@-brookingsregister.com.