Jun 7 2012

Minimum 12 Unit Density and Second Unit Changes


New second unit and multi-family housing rules in Piedmont without a citywide vote –

On June 11, staff will be presenting a comprehensive set of proposed revisions of the Piedmont Zoning Code to the Piedmont Planning Commission.  One change will require any new development in Zones C and D (multiple density residential and commercial) to be a minimum of 12 units per acre.

The proposed changes follow recent additions to the Housing Element of Piedmont’s General Plan, including commitments to new programs and zoning changes intended to create incentives for high density housing.  These programs were adopted as part of the new Housing Element was approved by the City Council on June 6, 2011 and certified by the State of California Department of Housing and Community Development after protracted negotiations with the State.  The new Housing Element committed to multiple changes in current Piedmont zoning laws. 

Zoning Changes Without a Citywide Vote

The Piedmont City Charter requires a citywide vote prior to any zone reclassification.   Its states:

“. . .  no existing zones shall be reduced or enlarged with respect to size or area, and no zones shall be reclassified without submitting the question to a vote at a general or special election.” (Full text printed below.)

However, City staff asserts the Charter voting requirement:

“appl[ies] only to zoning map changes, and not to zoning text changes.  This gives the City the flexibility to modify the lists of permitted and conditionally permitted uses, and to alter development standards, without a citywide vote.”

The Planning staff will, therefore, be proposing a comprehensive set of zoning changes to the Planning Commission without a citywide vote of residents.

New Development at 12 Units per Acre Density and Other Changes

Descriptive text accompanies each new housing program in the Housing Element, explaining how the program will be achieved.   These descriptions have already identified and committed to specific changes to Piedmont zoning laws.  They include:

  • require any new development in Zone C (multiple density residential) and Zone D (commercial) to be a minimum density of 12 units per acre.  This will require multi-family residential complexes or attached town homes.
  • permit multiple density residential development and mixed use in Zone D (commercial)
  • allow fewer parking spaces for smaller multi-family residential units in Zones D (commercial) and C (multiple density residential)
  • increase maximum lot coverage in Zone D from 25% to 50% for 2 story buildings
  • increase maximum lot coverage in Zone C from 40% to 50% for multiple density residential

Because the City already has a condominium conversion ordinance which prohibits the removal of rental apartments without providing an equivalent number of new rental apartments elsewhere in Piedmont, the staff description states the new ordinance will effectively ensure that any existing multiple family housing in Zone C will remain.

Monitoring Suspected, Illegal, and Unintended Second Units

Program 3C requires staff to actively monitor the supply of unintended, illegal, and suspected second units by maintaining a “confidential” data base listing the addresses of all such homes.   This program includes several commitments:

  • create a “confidential” list of Piedmont homes having rooms deemed to be “suspected”, “illegal”, “unintended”, or “vacant” second units
  • recognize the potential for such properties to help meet the City’s affordable housing needs
  • take proactive steps to realize this potential,  including the use of “leverage” against Piedmont residents
  • “Incentivize” second units in all Estate Lots and lots larger than 20,000 square feet.
  • “Incentivize” the active rental of “vacant” legal second units used as guest quarters or office space

See related article:  “Is Your House On the List?

More Incentives and Changes

Other multi-family housing incentives (not related to zoning changes) called for by the new Housing Element include:

  • streamline environmental review for future multi-family proposals
  • apply for and use Community Block Development Grant funds to work with non-profit developers to facilitate low income housing production (such as reduced permitting and environmental review costs)
  • solicit applications from households with less than 30% of “area” median income to apply for repair and maintenance grants.  (Program 2A.)

A rationale for limiting funds and City support to non-profit developers is not mentioned.


The City of Piedmont is primarily a residential city, and the City Council shall have power to establish a zoning system within the City as may in its judgment be most beneficial. The Council may classify and reclassify the zones established, but no existing zones shall be reduced or enlarged with respect to size or area, and no zones shall be reclassified without submitting the question to a vote at a general or special election. No zone shall be reduced or enlarged and no zones reclassified unless a majority of the voters voting upon the same shall vote in favor thereof; provided that any property which is zoned for uses other than or in addition to a single- family dwelling may be voluntarily rezoned by the owners thereof filing a written document executed by all of the owners thereof under penalty of perjury stating that the only use on such property shall be a single-family dwelling, and such rezoning shall not require a vote of the electors as set forth above.

One Response to “Minimum 12 Unit Density and Second Unit Changes”

  1. Staff is correct on the general scope of the Council’s legislative authority. I was the deputy City Attorney for Piedmont for many years and advised the planning department. I was also the City Attorney in Orinda for 11 years, until 2006. In both cities, I had a major role in the creation of new zoning codes. In Piedmont, the boundaries of a zone and the general land use within the zone are subject to voter approval. The City Council decides the specific rules and regulations within any zone, but the rules and regulations must be consistent with the charter description of authorized uses in a zone.

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