Dec 20 2016

Planning Commission Takes Note of Anonymous Letter Presumed to be from Neighbor

On November 14th, 2016, I attended the Piedmont Planning Commission from 5:00 to 7:30 p.m.  The Planning Commission meets once monthly (the second Monday of each month) to discuss and approve the modification and construction of houses and buildings in Piedmont.

During tonight’s meeting, the Commission discussed a variety of proposed modifications and projects, and approved many.  The meeting opened, however, with a Public Forum, during which I (being a newcomer to the realm of local government meetings) was able to “Speak Out” in the form of a question.  I asked the officials just how an application gets to their desk this evening- the steps each project from tonight’s meeting had to go through prior to the fateful moment of approval or rejection. I followed up with a question and comment about variances. I learned more in the first five minutes of the commission than I could have imagined. Additionally, I was comforted by the use of Robert’s Rules of Order, with which I have been familiar due to ASB’s [Associated Student Body] annual Constitutional Convention held in the City Council Chambers. Following the Public Forum, the Commission approved the Minutes of last month’s meeting and also approved the Consent Calendar.

The meeting agenda then moved on to the main discussions, the first of which regarded a home on Littlewood Drive. Mr. Mohazab, the architect of the project spoke first, describing the addition of a second unit and small deck and window modifications as “benign”. After the homeowners spoke, the Commission Chair brought up an anonymous letter that had been sent by a presumed neighbor, complaining about the project impeding parking availability. The letter was soon discarded and the project approved; however, when it was made clear that a construction project down the street was causing temporary parking issues and anonymous letters are not to be considered as seriously as those with names on them. I agreed with the decision to approve the Littlewood Drive project, especially considering that the homeowner plans to retire soon and will no longer own his corporate car.

The next application, 108 Moraga Drive*, was slightly more tricky. This family had virtually nowhere to expand but up. They only had five feet forward of potential room, not enough for a bedroom, and were already pushing backward toward the neighbor’s yard. Erica Benson, a neighbor upset with the proposed project, spoke on behalf of her husband against the homeowners. While there was a slight discussion of adding a basement bottom floor- mostly proposed by the upset neighbor- this was not feasible as a bedroom living space. The homeowners had been to the Commission once before in July, and had made drastic improvements to their plan in an attempt to comply with the needs of their neighbors. One official asked the architect if she was familiar with the fact that Piedmont prefers smaller homes. This was quickly put to rest when it was made clear that 108 Moraga Drive was by no means a mansion, still below the national average size of new homes. While Ms. Benson expressed understandable concerns for her view and the proximity of 108 Moraga to her home, she was unwilling to compromise and the project was approved considering the impressive modifications made since July to address neighbor concerns.

Following this application was a very simple one- 1106 Warfield Avenue. First, a neighbor, the homeowner of 1102 Warfield spoke in favor of the project, elegantly portraying the supportive neighborhood of their street and her full and utter backing of the application. While the homeowner/contractor/designer did not have anything specific to say, he answered a simple question concerning an issue already addressed. The project was quickly approved.

During a quick break, I interviewed the next man on the agenda- Mr. Paki Muthig, a father of two young children currently living just outside of Piedmont on Trestle Glen. An “architect, as well as the owner of the home”, Mr. Muthig had already presented to the commission and had begun some work on his soon to be home, 306 Magnolia Avenue. This time, he “added modifications to the basement and it’s access to the backyard”. While the construction of the project had already begin on site, the specifics of the basement exterior door were waiting to be finalized, pending tonight’s decision. From his description of the project to me prior to its discussion, it seemed relatively simple. The Commission, however, experienced in the art of potential concerns regarding urban planning, voiced some concerns.  Mr. Muthig asked for two variances. After heavy discussion of parking availability (which I, quite frankly, found to be a little too pervasive) the project was approved. I was quite relieved and excited for Mr. Muthig; his young kids were planning on attending my former elementary school and I could tell how hard this architect had worked on his planning.  I also had never noticed a lack of parking on Magnolia (excluding Friday night football games, of course).

Overall, the meeting offered me a unique glimpse into the world of urban planning and government meetings. I feel excited to experience government on a local level, and I look forward to exploring law and government more in civics class and in college.

Natalie Stollman, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author. * An appeal of the Commission’s action on 108 Moraga Avenue was appealed to the City Council and the appeal was denied at the Dec. 19, 2016 meeting.  The Council staff report can be read here. 

Leave a Comment