Aug 11 2011

Planning Commission Recommends City Council Approve 408 Linda Townhouses

On August 8, the Planning Commission devoted three hours to the hearing on the Linda Avenue townhouse project for the defunct PG&E substation site before voting to recommend that the City Council approve it and its Environmental Impact Report (EIR).  This was a milestone in a three year process that began with a March 28, 2008 application. 

Most recently, the project of the developer, Piedmont Station, LLC (PSLLC) was before the Commission at a June 13 informational hearing at the request of the PSLLC.  (See 8-11-11 Staff Report and 6-13-11 minutes.)   At that hearing the Commission found the application to be incomplete and set out a number of areas in which additional information was required.  Previous article.  Access for emergency vehicles, the location of mail boxes and trash collection, window treatments, exterior surface materials and a number of required details were not included in the application.  The Commission indicated five other aspects of the project requiring further information and recommended consideration of three design modifications. See 6-13-11 staff report.)  At the August 8 hearing, the Commission was satisfied that the information had been provided.

Public testimony preceded the Commissioner’s discussion. The immediately adjacent neighbor at 420 Linda Avenue, Debbie Hall, had objected to the massive size and height relative to her home at the June hearing.  (See photo below.)  At the August 8 hearing, she expressed concern with the future higher grade level immediately next to her property, as well as dirt and drainage from it.

Rick Schiller raised the issue of traffic and sight-lines for drivers in the downhill direction on Linda Avenue toward Grand Avenue.  He questioned the assumption of traffic moving at 25 mph rather than 30 mph.  Sight-lines of 170 feet will be available, which is adequate in a 25 mph zone but not adequate for 30 mph traffic, which requires 200 feet according to the Caltrans Manual Table 201. Schiller also indicated that some townhouse garages will be used for storage,  displacing parked cars from cluttered garages onto Linda Avenue and pointed out  “The supplemental Whitlock study on page 9, referring to a comparable townhome project in San Ramon states, ‘each unit of this similar development required 2.6 parking spaces per unit’.”  If the 408 Linda Avenue townhomes were seven single family detached homes, each would require more than the proposed two car garage spaces.  The townhomes have four bedrooms and range in size from 2,130 to 2,445 square feet.

Council member Garrett Keating raised the issue of off-street parking requirements in the event that several more high-density developments are constructed in the same neighborhood that is zoned to permit multi-family developments.  “The City has no estimate of how development of this zone will affect parking and it is prudent to reserve parking capacity for future development.”  The expectation of future developments led Commissioner Philip Chase to suggest that multi-family parking requirements should be considered as a policy question in general.  Keating also criticized several aspects of the parking study and submitted photographs of the on-street parking conditions on Linda Avenue on three Saturdays in July to support his critique.

Considerable Commission discussion was focused on tree removal.  There are dozens of trees on the site, all of which PSLLC prefers to remove for ease of construction, as indicated on the plans.  Nevertheless, submitted plans indicated preservation of three large trees within the Oakland Avenue public right-of-way.  The draft Conditions of Approval prepared by City staff allow their removal and were not changed by the Commission. (DR 14, Attachment I)  Commissioner Chase favored removal of all acacia trees but wanted them replaced with other trees for the benefit of the view of the site from the bridge.

Commissioner Clark Thiel criticized the economical asphalt roofing which will be the most visible aspect of the project from the major City gateway, crossing the Oakland Avenue bridge.  The defunct Mediterranean style PG&E building has a red tile roof.  Early discussion of development of the site had assumed Mediterranean style architecture with tile roofs, but that was not the architectural style chosen and presented by the architect, Glen Jarvis and the developer, PSLLC .

Another issue that absorbed significant discussion time was the assertion by several Commissioners that air-conditioning is essential for the units and should be provided or easy to add in an appropriate location.   This requirement was incorporated into the lengthy resolution.  Patrick Zimski, of PSLLC  expressed his belief that the Piedmont climate did not warrant air conditioning.

The Commissioners discussed how to prevent townhouse purchasers from barbecuing or installing sports equipment in the small front yards on Linda Avenue.  A number of methods of preventing unsightly clutter were discussed and rejected.  The Commission ultimately decided  to rely on the CC&R restrictions to accomplish their goal.

Questions still remain as to the intended market for the townhouses. Despite the fact that the units lack outdoor play space, Zimski suggested likely buyers would be families eager to send their children to Piedmont schools.  In contrast, Commissioner  Michael Henn presumed the condominiums would be attractive to Piedmont empty-nesters eager to be free of yard maintenance, even though the townhomes are on four levels with three stairways to negotiate.

The project will next be considered by the City Council for approval, including a vesting tentative map for creating condominium ownership of the townhouses.  Condominium ownership is a form of subdivision.


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