Aug 28 2016

OPINION: Increase Commercial Activity in Piedmont Civic Center and Lessen Commercial Proposals for Grand Avenue Area

The following letter has been sent to the Planning Commission regarding their August 30, 2016 consideration of commercial zoning changes in the Civic Center and Grand Avenue Area.

Dear Planning Commissioners:

On the top of page 4 of the staff report, staff cites several goals, actions and policies from the 2007 General Plan as rationale for the zoning proposals it has brought before you. In particular the statement is made “The report stressed that the intent behind the General Plan directives is to have regulations and procedures that do not act as barriers to low-density commercial and mixed use development in Zone D.”

As a city councilman involved with the drafting and approval of the General Plan, I can say that Council did not intend such a broad interpretation of the General Plan to accommodate mixed use development. To the contrary, there is specific language in the Plan that new development be in character with Piedmont and in particular with the neighborhood for which is it slated. 

As with all new development in Piedmont, there is direction in the General Plan that NEW development not be impactful on the neighborhood. I provide below the sections from the General Plan that you should consider when evaluating staff’s proposed changes. I think you will find the proposed revisions to Chapter 17 are not in line with the intent of the General Plan.  In particular, I call to your attention that Policy 4.2 says nothing about the constraining of MULTI-FAMILY housing.

That said, I understand that staff is attempting to be responsive to a broad community sentiment expressed in the 2007 General Plan Survey for more pedestrian-friendly commercial services in Piedmont. I think that sentiment can be best addressed by implementing the zoning policies staff proposes for future development in the Civic Center. That is the closest, most walkable pedestrian center for all of Piedmont and a logical place to encourage community gathering.  Such policies for the Grand Avenue commercial district are too impactful on that neighborhood and I encourage you to direct staff to return with different development policies for this section of Zone D.

Staff has attempted to mitigate impacts by proposing to lower the building height in the Grand area however I think that lack of parking is a bigger impact on the neighborhood.  Direct staff to undertake a thorough parking and traffic analysis of the neighborhood before considering additional revisions.

Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont Council Member

Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those the author. 

Attachment ………………………………………………… from the 2007 General Plan:

L A N D  U S E
Goal 1: Residential Character
Maintain the character of Piedmont as a residential community.
Policies and Actions
Policy 1.1: Encroachment of Non-Residential Uses
Maintain zoning regulations which strictly limit the encroachment of non-residential uses into residential areas, and which support residential uses on private land throughout the City.
Policy 1.2: Neighborhood Conservation
Sustain the balance between homes, private yards, and public space that defines Piedmont’s residential neighborhoods. The essential form of the city’s residential areas—including the scale and appearance of its homes, the mature vegetation, the views and vistas, the appearance of streets and public places, and the street layout—should be maintained for the long-term future.
Policy 1.3: Harmonious Development
Maintain planning and development review procedures which ensure that new development is harmonious with its surroundings and will not conflict with adjacent properties. New development and home alterations should be consistent with established standards for setbacks, height, and bulk, thereby conserving the low-density, pedestrian-friendly character of the city’s neighborhoods.
Goal 2: Commercial and Mixed Use Areas
Provide for a limited range of commercial uses which serve the basic needs of the community.
Policies and Actions
Policy 2.1: Local-Serving Emphasis: On the city’s limited commercial land supply, strongly encourage activities that meet the needs of Piedmont residents rather than region-serving activities. By supporting local-serving businesses in these areas, Piedmont can advance its goals of reducing driving, promoting walking, and creating a more balanced and well-rounded community.
Policy 2.2: Mixed Use Development
Within the Grand Avenue commercial district, encourage mixed use development that combines ground floor commercial uses and upper story residential uses.
Policy 2.3: Office Development
Support limited office development in the city’s commercial districts to accommodate businesses serving Piedmont residents, and to provide rental office space for Piedmont residents with small businesses.
Policy 2.4: Commercial Parking
Resolve parking problems in the city’s two commercial districts in a way that balances the needs of local businesses with those of immediately adjacent residents and the community at large.
Policy 2.5: Off-Site Impacts
Maintain a conditional use permit procedure for commercial uses which ensures that off-site impacts such as traffic, noise, parking, and odor are disclosed and mitigated to the greatest extent possible. Buffering and screening should be required between commercial development and adjacent residential properties to minimize the potential for land use conflicts between the two uses.
Policy 2.6: Commercial Uses as Gathering Places
Recognize the importance of Piedmont’s commercial land uses as community gathering places. Any new commercial projects should be designed in a way that contributes to pedestrian vitality and safety, and provides a clean, attractive, and welcoming environment for the public.
Action 2.A: Allowing Multi-family Residential in Commercial Zones
Amend City regulations so that multi-family housing becomes a conditionally permitted use in the Commercial zone (Zone D). However, such uses should only permitted when they are part of a mixed use project that includes ground floor commercial uses.
Action 2B: Commercial Development Standards
Review the development standards for commercial uses to ensure that they support the goal of promoting pedestrian-oriented development and attractive streetscapes.
As noted in Program 1.E, the City will be amending its Zoning regulations to permit mixed use and multi-family development in Zone D (the Commercial zoning district). As further noted in Program 4.G, the City will also amend the regulations for Zones C and D to allow fewer parking spaces for smaller multi-family units. Additional steps to incentivize multi-family and mixed use development in Zone D will be established. This should include the following specific zoning changes:
a)     Raising the maximum lot coverage allowed for two story buildings in Zone D for projects which include housing.
The limit is presently 50 percent for one-story buildings and 25 percent for two-story buildings. Given that most multi-family and mixed use buildings are two stories, it would be difficult to do such development in this zone without a Variance for lot coverage. The ordinance should be amended to allow 50 percent lot coverage for mixed use and multi-family buildings in Zone D
Goal 4: Elimination of Housing Constraints
Minimize constraints to the development of additional housing without compromising the high quality of Piedmont’s neighborhoods.
Policy 4.1: Communicating Planning and Building Information
Encourage public understanding of the planning and building processes in Piedmont to facilitate permit processing and reduce project costs and delays.
Policy 4.2: Planning and Building Standards
Ensure that planning and building standards, development review procedures, and fees do not form a constraint to the development, conservation, and rehabilitation of housing, or add unnecessarily to the cost of building or improving housing.

Leave a Comment