Feb 23 2015

Student Report: Planning Commission Meeting of February 9

– Student Report on the Planning Commission Meeting of February 9, 2015 by Kevin Shum –

The City of Piedmont Planning Commission met for a Regular Session on Monday, February 9, 2015 at 5:02 pm in the City Hall Council Chambers. The Planning Commission meets regularly on the second Monday of each month to discuss and evaluate proposed home construction and remodeling plans, and serve as advisors to the City Council regarding city planning.

The first house on the agenda was 53 Cambrian Avenue. The property owners requested reconsideration of the conditions of approval needed to construct a new 4,347 square-foot house that had been approved back in 2009. However, residents who live nearby voiced their concerns about possible soil subsidence during construction and the protection of neighboring properties.

Homeowner Caryl James wanted to ensure that her home would be covered to the fullest extent throughout the construction process. David Bowie, the attorney representing the homeowner, made certain that the soil conditions have remained unchanged and will provide the report produced by a soil engineer to the City.

The Commissioners supported the staff recommendation published back in 2009, based on the fact that current city standards are consistent with those six years ago and that no changes have been reported on site. If any problems arise during or after the construction process, recourse would be applicable. In this situation, homeowners would have the right to sue for compensation for any damages caused.

The next item on the agenda was a variance and design review of the remodeling of 74 Sea View Avenue. The homeowner spoke for a proposed a new 3-car garage, instead of a 4-car garage required by the City, as the property is large enough to accommodate other cars and, because of the large size of the property, there is ample space for street parking. In addition, two of the bedrooms, the homeowner noted, are not suited or intended to be counted as bedrooms — one is a hunting lodge, the other is a game room — so a 4-car garage is unnecessary. Consequently, the Commission debated whether or not the homeowner should be required to build a larger garage.

Commissioners Susan Ode, Tom Zhang, and Louise Simpson were against the parking variance, as the lot provides more than enough space for a larger garage. As a solution, the Commission decided that the 3 car garage be moved an additional foot to allow a fourth uncovered carport parking space.

The owner also proposed other stylistic remodeling and additions, such as new decks, changes to the roof, and landscape improvements. Commissioner Simpson was especially concerned about the removal of much of the mature landscaping that opens up much of the property to street view and a proposed metal roof. The Commissioners concluded that a landscaping plan will be necessary before a permit is issued and a dark, non-reflective metal roof to be installed.

The third item brought forth for discussion was a remodeling of 110 Maxwelton Road. The homeowner and architect requested variances for the front and side yard setback due of size and sloping nature of the lot, a conversion of the carport into an enclosed garage, and an entry deck to ensure proper and safe access to house.

Commissioner Zhang applauded the effort to improve the current parking condition and the addition of a deck to provide good outdoor space and a safe entry into the house. The other Commissioners also agreed that the designs sent in were perfectly suited for the unconforming nature of the property, and that the homeowners plan to preserve the mature redwoods situated in front of the property which will provide softness to house. Commissioner Simpson also pointed out that without the variances, it would be impossible to make the improvements, and that the design proposals align with the aesthetics of the neighborhood. The Commission unanimously supported the homeowner’s requests for variances.

The final major item that the Commission discussed was a proposed demolition of a greenhouse and a construction of a new structure on the property of 30 Prospect Road. In discussing with homeowner Annie Reding before the item was brought forth to the Commission, I learned that this was her second attempt at requesting the needed permits to build a studio due to various complaints from residing neighbors regarding the unwelcome structure in their neighborhood. She stated that she and her husband worked with their architect in the last few months and is here to ameliorate their neighbors’ concerns regarding the project and to present the revised designs to the Commission. This time around, she hopes to have her variances and permits issued so that they will finally be able to move forward with the project.

Redding’s husband, Ajay Krishnan, expressed to the Commission that the studio would serve as an office, in which he will work from home, and a guest house. Architect Ian Reed demonstrated that the revised design addresses their neighbor’s concerns — for example, the proposed structure has been decreased in square footage and lowered in height, has opaque windows, and has lower vantage points. Reed assured that the new design addresses the concern of blockage of view.

However, this project still faced stiff opposition from neighbors. Neighbor Jean Zee was opposed to the massive structure, listed at 317 feet, which she says is too large for an office, and obstructs her view. In addition to requesting opaque glass be installed on all sides of the structure, she is concerned that the studio will become a one bedroom house in future.

Neighbor Blake Wong lives directly across street and reiterated the same concerns—that the project is too big for neighborhood, and there is not another structure like this in this size and nature in neighborhood.  However, Commissioners were in full support of the project, as the revised proposal is much improved and addresses the neighbors initial concerns adequately.

Commissioner Simpson applauded the fantastic modifications and even suggested the kitchen be put back in order to create a second unit, which Piedmont is encouraging right now. Commissioner Tony Theophilos thought the revisions went above and beyond to address neighbors’ concerns and that the architect implemented creative and original solutions regarding the decreased size and other design modifications to the structure.

In my opinion, I also support this project. In talking with the homeowner, I realized how much time and effort was put into remediating the neighbors’ complaints. It is important to note that there is an existing structure on the property, and the new structure would replace that. I feel that the neighbors’ concerns are unfounded based on the revised plans. Not only does the structure blend in with the property, but it is a logical upgrade for the homeowners.

Kevin Shum, Piedmont High School Student

Editors’ Note:  The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

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