Nov 29 2013

Zoning Changes: What Are Piedmont Voter Rights?

– Piedmont appears headed for significant zoning changes without voter approval. – 

Consent Calendar approval of zoning changes –

After little public involvement, zoning changes have been placed on the Monday, December 2, Council Consent Agenda to approve zoning changes to take effect within weeks on January 1, 2014.  When items are placed on the Consent Agenda, public input is considered complete.

At its November 18, 2013 meeting, the City Council voted 4-0 (Councilmember Margaret Fujioka absent) to allow multifamily housing to be located in Piedmont’s commercial areas without voter approval as recommended by the Planning Department and Planning Commission through a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) rather than seeking approval by Piedmont voters, as specified in the City Charter.

City Charter requirements – 

The City Charter states that voters decide zoning changes under SECTION 9.02 ZONING SYSTEM:

“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 judgement 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 owner 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. ” City Charter  Emphasis added.

The Charter defines zoning classifications by their uses.  A change of use by Conditional Use Permit or otherwise has been considered a reclassification based on the City Charter language. 

Piedmont’s 5 zones are described and classified as follows:

Zone A – Single family residential

Zone B – Public facilities (including parks)

Zone C – Multifamily density housing

Zone D – Commercial

Zone E – Single family residential estate

All Piedmont zones allow single family residential use,  including the public facilities and commercial zones.

Ballot Measure –

 An option for voter approval was not proposed by staff, yet to satisfy the Charter and the State, the City Council could place the matter on a ballot to change Zone D Commercial to mixed use/ apartment and businesses.  This option would adhere to the traditional interpretation of the Charter language.  Council members Wieler and Keating wanted the voters to decide the matter of zoning.

If the Council approves the zoning change, an interpretation and method of changing zones by CUP in all zones by the  City Council rather than voters will have been set.

At the Council meeting, two new, temporary consultants, Acting City Attorney Michelle Kenyon and Deputy City Attorney Judith Robbins, voiced their opinion that changing from single family residential (allowed in all zones) to multiple housing residential was not a zoning /reclassification change because residential is residential,” nor was going from commercial to mixed use a reclassification, as each property would be considered individually.  CUP’s are considered permanent and run with the property.

The all “residential is residential” interpretation is a strong departure from historic interpretation and use characteristics of zones,  Charter language, and intent of language in the City Code and Charter.

Based on staff comments, all Piedmont zones (single family, public facilities – parks, and commercial) could be changed by the Council to multifamily residential or other uses without voter approval by using the Conditional Use Permit process.  

Staff report for December 2, 2013 City Council meeting.

Editors’ Note: The Piedmont Civic Association does not support or oppose specific ballot measures.  The Association does advocate for adherence to the Piedmont City Charter.  

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