A proposed new residential zone that would tighten the Bakersfield municipal code on multiple-family dwellings -- especially apartments and condominiums -- is headed for the Bakersfield Planning Commission's consideration after unanimous approval Tuesday by a city council committee.

It's called the R-1-4.5 zone, and it comes in response to opposition last year from southwest Bakersfield residents who organized against plans for apartments at Ming Avenue and River Run Boulevard.

The project's developer agreed in July to build single-family houses instead, mollifying neighbors.

City officials hope the new zone will clarify and narrow developers' choices.

Currently, the R-1 zone requires new single-family houses to be on lots no smaller than 6,000 square feet.

If a developer wants to build houses on smaller lots, he or she has to get that land rezoned to either R-2 or a Planned Unit Development.

The PUD zone limits developers to single-family houses, and requires a specific development and landscaping plans and architectural renderings.

Rezoning R-2 for single-family houses allows a developer to switch from houses to apartments and vice versa.

The zone allows one living unit -- a house, condominium or apartment, for example -- for each 2,500 square feet of land, meaning that about 17 units could be built on one acre of land.

Changing from houses to apartments would require a site plan review, whereas changing from apartments to houses would require the developer to submit a tentative tract map.

The new R-1-4.5 zone would give developers who want to build houses on smaller lots the option of subdividing land as small 4,500 square feet -- but it would lock them in to building houses.

Any subsequent changes of heart by a developer suddenly wanting apartments would require a general plan amendment and a zone change.

"That's the concern is that once you have that R-2 zoning in place, you could potentially develop apartments under it," said Community Development Director Doug McIsaac. "Hopefully, it helps to address some concerns on both sides: the neighborhood and the developers."

Committee members agreed, voting 3-0 to send the proposed zone to the planning commission as soon as Feb. 20, along with a proposal to vary the number of feet houses are set back from the front edges of their lots in the R-1-4.5 zone, to keep housing tracts from looking monolithic.

"That may be a direction we might want to go," said committee member Harold Hanson, who is Ward 5 councilman. "Less yard to have to water, that's a good thing with the water situation today."

The Bakersfield Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to consider the matter at its Feb. 20 meeting, and if approved, the newly-created zone would go to the Bakersfield City Council for final approval.