The city of Sedona is blocking its own efforts to develop both affordable housing and environmentally-friendly housing by adopting building and development codes that increase construction costs and ignore affordable and sustainable materials.
Sedona’s Land Development Code asserts that the purpose of the standards laid out in the code is “to implement the Sedona Community Plan vision for a more attractive, efficient, and livable community” by promoting “building designs and construction practices that are sustainable, provide for solar and other alternative energy systems and are adaptable to multiple uses for extended building lifecycles.”
The LDC is supplemented by the Design Review, Engineering and Administrative Manual, which states in chapter 2, “The general design intent of this manual is to ensure that the built environment is in harmony with the natural environment.” The DREAM goes on to explain that the intent of the LDC is to establish standards that foster “sustainable development” and to “promote environmentally responsible building and design.” It also quotes from the Sedona Community Plan’s vision statement, the first item of which begins, “Sedona is known for practices that respect and protect the natural environment.”
In 2019, the city also adopted the International Building Code, the International Residential Code and their supplementary codes as the city’s building code, together with the National Electrical Code.
In combination, this collection of local and national codes actively interferes with the city’s stated goals with regard to environmental friendliness and affordability. Some examples of such interference include:
- Sedona requires garages for all single-family houses over 1,500 square feet. If a lot is zoned RMH, RS-6 or RS-10, a single-car garage is permitted; in all other zoning districts, a two-car garage of at least 400 square feet is required. At the end of 2022, Forbes found that the average U.S. cost for building a garage was $24,000, with the typical two-car garage cost per square foot averaging $52. [LDC 5.5.D.1]
- Automatic fire sprinkler systems are required for townhouses and one- and two-family houses. The National Fire Sprinkler Association states that the average cost of installing a residential sprinkler system is $1.35 per square foot, which works out to about $2,000 for a 1,500-square foot home. An estimate of local building costs prepared by Sedona Realtors Jan Bigelow and Wally Reule puts the cost of a sprinkler system much higher, at between $6,000 and $20,000. [IRC R313]
- Any new home construction requires “a soils classification, prepared by an Arizona registered geotechnical engineer,” which in Yavapai County can cost between $1,000 and $3,000. [DREAM 1.2.C]
- New homes must supply a conduit to provide 240V current to the garage or carport to enable electric vehicle charging. The cost of an additional 240V AC installation, without a transformer, is about $300. This requirement was not originally included in the IBC or IRC, but was added by the city of Sedona. [City Code 15.05.040.JJ; IRC E3901.13 as amended]
- New homes must be tested for air leakage. The cost of a blower door pressurization test is in the range of $300 to $400. [IRC N122.214.171.124]
- The combined requirements of the LDC, DREAM, IBC and IRC make it prohibitively complicated for owner-builders to design and build their own homes while still meeting code requirements. For example, the drawings required for building and related permit applications include — but are not limited to — an existing conditions survey, preliminary site plan, landscape plan, lighting plan, topographic map, vegetation map, calculations for floor, roof, snow and wind loading, and possibly additional documents, such as a grading and drainage plan prepared by a licensed engineer that meets 30 detailed requirements. [DREAM 1.1.F, 1.2.C, 3.1.F.2; IBC 1603] Since few new home builders are themselves engineers, surveyors or contractors who have the skills and experience to meet these complex requirements, they have to hire professionals in order to stay in compliance with city code, adding the otherwise-avoidable costs of design and labor to the total cost of their homes. Bigelow and Reule placed the cost of a survey at $1,200 to $5,000, while Forbes estimates that house plans will cost between $500 and $3,500. Bankrate calculates the cost of labor for a house at $40 to $80 per square foot, or about 40% of the overall cost. Based on these numbers, labor costs to construct a 1,500-square foot, $400,000 [build cost] home in Sedona could run anywhere from $60,000 to $160,000.
- While accessory dwelling units, or tiny homes, are permitted by city code, these are restricted to one per lot, must be smaller than either 750 square feet or 50 percent of the size of the main building and may include a kitchenette but not a kitchen. They must be constructed to the same standards as the main housing unit on the lot. [LDC 3.4.C]
- Neither the LDC nor the DREAM mention or encourage the use of a number of alternative technologies that offer increased affordability, sustainability or both over conventional construction. Such technologies include rammed earth, cob, adobe and straw-bale construction methods; recycled insulation; incinerating and composting toilets and anaerobic digesters; passive solar heating, radiative and evaporative cooling, windcatchers and rocket mass heaters; and urban agricultural practices drawing on the land use studies of John Jeavons and Masanobu Fukuoka as well as the traditional methods of precolonial Arizonans. Likewise, none of these technologies are mentioned in the Sedona Climate Action Plan. In addition, section 3.4 of the LDC restricts food security and thereby sustainability by prohibiting the keeping of livestock on lots smaller than one acre in size. Chickens are allowed by permit on smaller lots, but no more than six chickens or two beehives are permitted per address. The city also prohibits the installation of wood fireplaces and stoves — wood being the original renewable energy resource — in new homes unless they meet EPA phase 2 standards. [City Code 15.05.070, 15.05.080]
The IRC pays more attention to environmental awareness than Sedona’s own locally-developed codes do, since it includes standards for masonry heaters [including rocket mass heaters], solar thermal energy systems and straw-clay and straw-bale construction methods.
However, while acknowledging that “heavier forms of straw-clay construction have been used in various parts of the world for thousands of years,” and that the advantages of strawclay construction include “thermal performance and low environmental impact,” the IRC only sets out standards for its use as a nonload-bearing material.
These costs do not include the fees the city charges for building, grading and other permits; they are additional expenditures that are necessary in order for a builder to obtain permits in the first place. Bigelow and Reule estimated the cost of a building permit alone at a minimum of $8,500.
The above estimates suggest that Sedona’s building codes increase the cost of each new home by a total of $100,000 to $200,000. The codes also perpetuate the use of wood, concrete and plastics in construction; favor the use of corporate supply chains to provide standardized materials over the use of local resources; and prescribe practices that require increased rather than decreased resource and energy usage.
These outcomes contrast with the expressed intentions of Sedona’s leaders, the stated goals of the CAP and the texts of the codes themselves.
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