Dec 8 2013

OPINION: Objection to Newly Discovered Charter Breach

The following letter was sent to Mayor John Chiang prior to the December 2, City Council meeting when the Council approved the Mixed Use zoning change for Zone D Commercial.

Item #3 – 2nd Reading of Ordinance 712 N.S. – Amending Chapter 17 Correspondence Received before 4:30 PM on Monday, December 2nd

Dear John,

I read with great alarm that the City Council is considering adopting a policy which will allow the city to bypass current zoning laws by implementing the Conditional Use Permit process to change commercial and single family mixed use zoning to commercial and multi-family use.

While it appears that the proposal at the moment is limited to the Grand Avenue business corridor, I am very concerned that creating a precedence for bypassing the zoning here will provide precedence to take similar action in other areas of the city, especially when it would appear that this recommendation is the result of pressure from state regulators. It would certainly be a terrible thing to allow this process to permit multi-family development in the heart of the city in the commercial area adjacent to City Hall or in any residential neighborhood.

These concerns stem from the cavalier comments attributed to temporary counsel and the new deputy city attorney that changing from single family to multi-family is not a zoning change because “residential is residential.” This is absurd, and one only need look at the neighborhoods bordered by Oakland Avenue, near Plymouth Church, to see how these once lovely neighborhoods have been ruined. If this is truly the attitude of our new city attorneys, the city needs new lawyers, ones who are sensitive to this community and the desires of its citizens.

Further, while permitting the commercial Grand Avenue corridor to become a mixed use of multi- family residential and commercial may ultimately be a positive thing, this is an issue which should be put to the voters. Allowing this to occur under a Condition Use Permit process establishes a dangerous precedent, especially if one is to believe the construction changing from single to multi-family is not a zoning change as “residential is residential.” It is simply not true. It appears that the state is exerting undue pressure on city staff to ignore the law as it exists in this city. Where is the legal precedence to support this position? This is unacceptable. We should be providing support to the staff to stand firmly in support of the zoning that is presently in place.

At the meeting on December 2, 2013, I would ask that city counsel take a moment to review the city charter which provides in pertinent part:

“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.

It is clear that any reclassification of the existing zoning must be approved by the City Council and must also be approved by the electorate. The staff’s recommendation of a Conditional UsePermit to circumvent existing zoning is not an acceptable solution, with or without pressure from the state to do so. The council should not yield to this pressure.

Best regards,
Anne Gritzer

Editors’ Note:  The opinions are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.  The letter is posted on the City website. 

2 Responses to “OPINION: Objection to Newly Discovered Charter Breach”

  1. I whole-heartedly agree!! At some point, we as a city have to agree that this is important and come together to disagree with and argue against the state agencies trying to change our community into a “one-size-fits-all” City.

  2. The proposal is not limited to the Grand Ave corridor. The Mixed Use Commerical/Residential Use added to Chapter 17 is now permitted in Zone D which includes the Grand Ave corridor and the Civic Center. Grand Avenue has more likely conversion properties but there are some properties in the Civic Center that could convert as well.

    State”pressure” is one reason this proposal came forward but not the only one. Many residents supported more commercial development in Piedmont in the 2008 General Plan Survey and the Civc Center Master Plan process. That does not necessarily mean they support mixed use but mixed use does provide the city a way to address housing mandates and new commercial uses residents desire.

    If the design guidelines in the proposal (see below) are adhered to, it seems unlikely that much “multi-family” housing can be developed in the Civic Center. Between the limits on lot coverage and hardscape and the requirements to provide parking there may not be area for more than 2 units per current commercial footprints. There does seem to be some interest on the part of staff to and the Planning Commission to loosen these guidelines for the Grand Ave corridor though.

    Mixed Use Commercial/Residential Use: There shall be a maximum lot coverage by structures of fifty percent (50%) of the total lot area for one-story and two-story buildings. Existing commercial properties that exceed the fifty percent (50%) lot coverage, may keep the existing coverage and commercial square footage when combined with a residential use. No more than eighty percent (80%) of the total lot area shall be covered by hardscape surfaces.

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