Jan 8 2017

View and Privacy Appeal Denied by City Council Based on Ordinance Limiting Review

Do residents have an appropriate opportunity to be heard during Planning Commission and City Council hearings?

For weeks Piedmonters have noticed the story poles that seem to double the height of a house on Moraga opposite the Mountain View Cemetery.  This proposed enlargement has struck some as controversial.  However, it was approved by Piedmont’s Planning Commission and the neighbors’ appeal was denied by the City Council. Council found no procedural error and denied the appeal of neighbors objecting to building an additional story on top of a house.  The construction will more than double the size of the house.  The Planning Commission action was upheld on the basis that no error had occurred in the process when considering the house extension application.

The objecting neighbors thought their view was supposed to be protected but were told that Piedmont only protects views which are “panoramic”, not the ridgeline view from the Ronada house.  Most Piedmonters do not have “panoramic” views, but value their views of hills, parks, or the Olmsted landscape of the cemetery, etc. Since few Piedmont homes have “panoramic” views, this limited view protection  is a benefit for only a minority of Piedmont property owners. Chapter 17 requires consideration of any proposed constructions effect on “… neighboring properties’ existing views, privacy and access to direct and indirect light …” but does not  limit consideration to “panoramic” views.

17.2.79: View. “View” means an existing significant view involving more than the immediately surrounding properties, including, but not limited to, any of the following: city skylines, bridges, distant cities, geologic features, hillside terrains and wooded canyons or ridges. (Ord. 656 N.S. 8/05)

Piedmont has a narrow appeal process that eliminates an evaluation by the City Council of the full merits of an application.  The appeal ordinance has been publicly challenged for an inability of the Council to fully consider various aspects of the Planning Commission actions. If there was an error during the consideration process by the Planning Commission or the City Planners, the responsibility of identifying any such errors falls on an objecting appellant who is required to pay approximately $700 to seek justice and right the error.

Reimbursement by the City to appellants for their expenses including the City fee or their legal costs because of an error or omission by the Planning Commission is unknown and has not been announced.

Appellants face a difficult task when presenting their case to the City Council. The judgement of the Planning Commission in applying Piedmont laws and the actual judgement of the decision cannot be considered.  Time limits imposed, although not found in Piedmont law, further restrict the public or opposing party, typically neighbors, to present their concerns.

At the December 19 appeal, Planning Commission Chair Eric Behrens and Planning Director Kevin Jackson explained to the Council that the applicant had made some adjustments in their plans, but the applicant indicated they could not lower the second story by 4 feet. The vote by the Planning Commission was unanimous as was the City Council’s vote.

To read the full staff report on the appeal click below:

12/19/16 – PUBLIC HEARING Regarding an Appeal of the Planning Commission’s Decision to Approve with Conditions an Application for Variance & Design Review at 108 Moraga Avenue

Given the significant responsibility and credibility bestowed upon the Planning Commission by the City Council, every detail, fact, and public point becomes vital to any decision.

The City is currently looking at changes to the ordinance known as Chapter 17 governing construction in Piedmont.  Some proposed changes are controversial, but the major complaint heard in the City revolves around no knowledge and no timely engaging community meetings to discuss changes or gain adequate input from the residents.

Under proposed changes governing construction in Piedmont, a greater number of applications will fall under the jurisdiction of the Planning staff rather than the Planning Commission further removing the public from open hearing processes.

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