Nov 7 2013

Apartments and Smaller Lots Decided by Voters or City Council

– Proposed changes in zoning to be considered by the City Council –

To increase low-income and affordable housing in Piedmont, apartments above businesses and smaller lot sizes have been proposed by the Planning Department.  The Planning Commission has made a recommendation to the City Council to approve changes in  Zone D Commercial and Zone A Single Family Residential.  

Uses in Zone D, the commercial zone, would change from business and single family residential to business, single family residential and multi-family apartments (Mixed Use).

The illustration provided by the planning staff in Zone D places multi-family apartment development above the Shell station at the corner of Wildwood and Grand Avenues. The ACE hardware store and nearby homes on Grand Avenue would fall into the newly reclassified zone permitting multi-family apartments above stores with a minimum density of 12 units per net acre.  The commercial properties in the Civic Center (the service station, two banks, and Mulberry’s Market) could likewise be developed with apartments above them.

– Voters or City Council authorized to make decisions on zone uses as proposed for the commercial Zone D ? –

Piedmont’s voter enacted City Charter states:

“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;”

Former Piedmont Deputy City Attorney Linda C. Roodhouse noted:

“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.”  Emphasis added

Barry Miller, Piedmont’s Zoning Consultant advised the City:

The Charter requires a citywide vote for zoning map changes, which constrains the development of a variety of housing types, particularly high-density multi-family housing.” 

Miller further advises that, “… it is unlikely that voters would approve the rezoning of land from single-family to multi-family use.”

The Planning Department has been moving ahead to implement a reclassification of use in Zone D without an indication of requiring voter approval per the Charter.

– Required lot size to be reduced in single family residential Zone A –

Properties in Zone A Single Family Residential could be entitled to lot size and street frontage reductions.  The proposal for the single family residential Zone A would allow lots to be reduced in size to 8,000 square feet and 60 foot street frontage from the current 10,000 square feet and 90 foot street frontage requirement.  Reductions would be determined by a lot averaging system based on lot dimensions within 500 feet of the subject property.  Historically, when appropriate, variances for lot sizes have been granted by the Planning Commission.

“Purposes: 1) to eliminate a perceived need to obtain a variance to build a single-family residence on a lot with fewer than 10,000 square feet; and 2) to remove unnecessary and archaic language” [referencing the notation of Charter requirements.] Planning staff explanation.

City Council member Keating recently wrote to PCA:

“First, changing the minimum lot size in a zone does not constitute rezoning, which would require a vote of the community. For example, Zone A is still residential although lots size requirements are being eliminated. And lot sizes are “archaic” as staff suggest – median lot size in Zone A is 6500 sq ft so most lots are below the 10,000 ft standard.”

– Environmental impacts not examined –

To implement the zoning change, the planning staff recommended and the Planning Commission approved a Negative Declaration as compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The Negative Declaration relieves the City from further evaluation of any potential traffic, financial requirements, safety or other impacts of the proposed zoning changes. Although impacts can be examined, the Planning Commission did not undertake a detailed examination of potential impacts such as funding for services, infrastructure, traffic, safety, noise, etc.


“the proposed action to approve the amendments is exempt from CEQA because it can be seen with certainty that there is no possibility that the ordinance may have a significant effect on the environment, under CEQA Guidelines”  Kate Black, City Planner – October 14, 2013

Additional housing units such as apartments would not add to the School Support Tax base as parcels are taxed $2,406 per year regardless of the number of housing units.

The major principle of Piedmont zoning has been preservation of the single-family residential character of the City.

The Piedmont City Code states:

17.3.1: Purpose. It is the purpose of this Chapter to provide for specified zones and uses therein and to prescribe the character of construction within the City, in accordance with the City CharterThe zoning system of the City consists of two parts:
(a) The City Charter, which contains the zoning policy and requirements for voter approval of zone classification changes.
(b) Chapter 17 of the City Code. (Ord. No. 488 N.S., 10/87) 17.3.2: Intent, Establishment of Zones. In order to (1) maintain the City of Piedmont as primarily a single-family residential city, (2) to designate, regulate, and restrict the location and use of all buildings and land, (3) to promote the public interest, health, comfort, economy and convenience, and (4) to preserve the public peace, safety, morals, order, and the public welfare, the City of Piedmont is divided into five zones as follows…:

The matter is tentatively scheduled to be considered by the City Council in November.

Planning Staff report October 14, 2013

Planning Staff report of September 30, 2013 with ordinance language. 

One Response to “Apartments and Smaller Lots Decided by Voters or City Council”

  1. Staff has indicated several times that a vote would be necessary to RECLASSIFY the commercial zone to a multi-use zone. And I think the need for a vote was noted in the General Plan. But the Code is quite clear so a vote will be required.

    As I understand it, the zoning requirements (setback, lot coverage, parking requirements etc.) and design review quidelines for this reclassified zone are being worked out over the next few months at the Planning Commission, presumably before a vote is taken to reclassify the zone. I think that should be done so that Piedmonters know what this zone could look like if approved by the voters. This reclassification is being proposed by staff for the Grand Ave corridor and the Civic Center area and could lead to substantive development in both areas. Residents who want to track this process should email Kate Black and ask to receive notification of meetings and hearings about the ongoing review of Chapter 17. Her email is and ask to be added to the distribution list for Chapter 17 hearings.

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