The Washington City Council gave the nod to several code changes impacting multifamily developments, and addressing changes to historic buildings.

Council members voted unanimously Tuesday, Sept. 4, to approve an ordinance requiring any exterior changes in the city’s historic district to have “mandatory review, voluntary compliance.”

The ordinance also relaxes density requirements in multifamily zoning districts, which officials say would give more opportunities for renters.

Other proposed changes included reverting setback minimums in C-2 overlay districts to what they were before major code changes in 2017.

The final code change amended planned unit development density calculations due to the changes in the R-3 districts.

Public hearings were held in August in front of the Washington Planning and Zoning District and the city council. The planning commission unanimously recommended the city implement the code changes.

Historic District

The Washington Historic Preservation Committee will have more chances to eye proposed changes to historic buildings including painting buildings in the city’s historic district, along with other facade improvements.

Community and Economic Development Director Sal Maniaci previously stated this code change could pause work for property owners who do not submit changes for review.

He explained any maintenance, including door or window repairs or replacements, to the facade of a historic district building must be reviewed by the commission.

Under the previous code, any “ordinary repairs” or maintenance does not require a certificate of review from the historic preservation commission.

Maniaci stated enforcement of the proposed code could be difficult because painting and other maintenance work does not require a city building permit. He anticipates many residents will keep an eye on facade changes.

City Administrator Darren Lamb told council members last month that more than 10 years ago officials agreed that they would not require a review for maintenance projects, including painting. He noted that there is a book of guidelines that the commission will follow to make recommendations.

Maniaci said the commission serves as a “free consultant” to suggest appropriate changes.

Density Requirements

Maniaci said reducing the minimum lot sizes from 3,000 square feet per unit to 2,000 square feet per unit for R-3 multifamily zoning will allow for more affordable housing in the form of apartments.

He noted that the change is in line with the city’s master plan. He pointed to the goal in the master plan that encourages entry-level residences in Washington.

The objectives outlined within the goal are to encourage private development of higher density housing near commercial areas, develop a housing strategy to create opportunities for renters to become homeowners and look into the creation of smaller residential lot zoning districts.

Lamb added there have been developers looking to build new apartment complexes, but they have been limited due to density requirements.

Maniaci said Washington is much more stringent with its multifamily lot sizes than other local municipalities.

For example, in Union the minimum lot size in multifamily districts is 1,500 square feet per unit. In Ballwin, the minimum lot size is 2,000 square feet per unit.

In St. Charles, Fenton, Eureka and Warrenton, the minimum lot sizes vary between 2,420 and 2,722 square feet per unit.

City staff began discussing the change more indepth following a proposal for an apartment complex at Fifth and Penn streets. The developer considered constructing 12 units on a 24,000-square-foot lot. However, the zoning code would only allow for eight units to be built there.