Mar 4 2017

Public Limited on Zoning Decisions While Council Poses Few Questions Regarding Significant Changes

Residents are left out of important planning processes – 

Little known to the general public are big proposed changes to zoning and the building code agendized for consideration by the City Council, Monday, March 6, 7:30 p.m. City Hall.

Some of the proposed changes to the zoning and building code include allowing:

  • Apartments on top of Mulberry’s and the three Piedmont banks to a height of 40 feet with no setbacks unless next to a residence
  • Reduction in the size and number of parking spaces required for construction projects
  • New smaller lots with reduced street frontage in lower Piedmont
  • Commercial businesses on public property
  • Elimination of  height restrictions and setback requirements on public property
  • Land use changes within zones.
  • Safety omitted in the intent of Design Review
  • Structures built up to the property line in Piedmont’s lower residential zone
  • Transfer of certain authority from the Planning Commission to the Planning Director
  • Eliminating notice to neighbors or neighborhoods under various circumstances
  • No provision for driveways widths, lengths, and turnaround requirements within the ordinance
  • Reduction in setback requirements between houses
  • Reliance on the Council approved General Plan Document rather than the voter approved City Charter

These bullet points are only some of the proposed changes.        _________________

Council and public questions at the Study Session –

The Council appeared ready to accept recommendations with few questions or concerns making some observers recall a similar attitude preceding taxpayer incurred obligation of the $2 + million private underground utility debacle and the Blair Park proposal and unrepaid “gift” to the City.

Some observers of the January 23, 2017 Council “Study Session” on zoning changes and building requirements were left without answers and without sufficient opportunities to be heard.

Removing the matter from public view and engagement, residents were asked to write their questions or concerns to the Council on the 500 + page voluminous proposals. 

No open interactive approach offered by the City-

A powerpoint explanation at the January 23, 2017 Council Study Session provided an overview of the proposals.   The public participants interested in the proposals were limited to 3 minutes per person to make comments or inquiry on the lengthy and complex document.  Some participants had more than one point or inquiry, but could not make them to the Council. The Council pressed ahead often without asking questions or involving the public during their “Study Session.”

In stark contrast to efforts to solicit input on garbage/solid waste services that will not change until 2018, the Planning Department and City Council have an expedited schedule to adopt far reaching and impactful long term changes to Piedmont laws governing what can be built on Piedmont property.

Some of the Council members seemed overwhelmed by the 535 pages of documents and somewhat ill-informed on important aspects of the proposal. There were basic issues such as variances.  Preparation, reading and understanding of the documents was not obvious to many observers of the meeting. One or more Council members appeared intimidated by the process.

Current Chairman of the Planning Commission, Eric Behrens spoke of the 16 meetings held by the Planning Commission to discuss the proposals and their recommendations (some of which began 10 years ago.)  Many of these meetings included prior commissioners no longer on the commission. The vast majority of the “public meetings” were held at an indeterminate time at the end of very long Planning Commission meetings.  The Commissioners were often visibly weary and ready to accept the staff proposals.  Exceedingly few residents had the time or fortitude to wait through an entire Planning Commission meeting for an indefinite time to speak for 3 minutes. Some speakers felt they were ignored and had insufficient time to make explanations of issues to the Commission.

Mayor Jeff Wieler stated at the January 23, 2017 Study Session that various aspects of the proposal could be considered individually. Later, he raised issues regarding short term home rentals, home occupation permits and commercial zone laws. The staff, legal consultant and Council member Tim Rood discouraged waiting to resolve individual issues prior to adoption.  The advising legal counselor informed Wieler the proposal could not be broken apart to the wonderment of many who recognized that the Design Review Section was considered “Interim” and incomplete. Inconsistencies in language between the Interim and Proposed documents did not deter pressing ahead.

Planning Director Kevin Jackson frequently used the terms “recommended by the Planning Commission” and “mandated by the General Plan” when introducing the changes to Piedmont laws.

Vice Mayor Bob McBain pushed to have the enormous package of changes approved noting it could be amended if appropriate.

New Council member Jen Cavenaugh initially raised a number of questions in the meeting, but soon appeared to hold back on inquiry as Council member Rood stepped in to defend interpretations and intent of the proposed changes.

Council member Teddy King showed concern for short term rentals, proposed to prohibit rentals under 30 days.  The Planning Commission has recommended short term rentals be prohibited.

There have been NO surveys since 2007 and NO community workshops for idea exchanges. 

Many points presented by the public have not been fully explored or responded to in the meetings. Parking requirements have been key to many resident speakers, yet the proposal continues to reduce both the size and number of parking spaces in future developments.

Standards for measuring congestion, traffic, parking needs, and safety are not defined in the ordinance.  Standards are lacking in many of the decision areas.

Rather than an interactive process, public input was closed and the public was not provided an opportunity to respond to what the Council discussed at the meeting. By the end of the over 3 hour meeting and despite Planning Director Kevin Jackson’s public notice stating no action would be taken, Jackson inquired as to any direction the Council wanted to give him. None was given.

Significant land use changes between zones without voter approval:

Previous Councils defined “classification as the use”. –

An example of the established definition of “classification” as “use,” was in 1987 when the Council voted to create two separate single family residential zones, one for single family residential parcels with a minimum 10,000 square feet (Zone A) and another zone for single family residential parcels with a minimum 20,000 square feet (Zone E – Estate).   This was done by the Council without voter approval on the basis that there was no change of use. The Council stated that the use within the zone was not changing, consequently it was not a new zone, even though one zone was reduced, Zone A,  and Zone E, the Estate Zone was created out of Zone A.  In Chapter 17 of the City Code, there are two separate single family residential zones, Single Family Residential (Zone A) and Single Family Residential Estate (Zone E), approved by the Council because the use did not change.  

The current proposal relates to land use changes without voter approval. This questionable process goes against the wording in the City Charter.

The Council is scheduled on March 6, 2017 to consider the first reading of the important ordinance changes and Interim proposals.

City Council Agenda– March 6, 2017 

Click here to view Staff Reports.  (There is an error with the City posting.  The staff report on item 6. states Introduction and 1st Reading of Ord. 728 N.S. Adopting Revisions to the City Code Including Chapter 17, Planning and Land Use; and Consideration of a Resolution Adopting Interim Design Guidelines and the Repeals of Policies Incorporated into the City Code and Guidelines 0705, 0795 7.  Information can be found at 

2 Responses to “Public Limited on Zoning Decisions While Council Poses Few Questions Regarding Significant Changes”

  1. What is the rush? We citizens of this City should be given more time and information as well as public meetings in large venues such as auditoriums.

    The Planning Staff in not elected as is our City Council. Recent turnover in our local agencies may result in hasty and unpopular recommendations which we all have the right to understand and to study. Sometimes it seems
    the Staff thinks that the State government requires certain housing regulations that may or may not need local citizen surveillance.

  2. This is quite extraordinary.

    1) Does anyone know who or what groups or entities are seeking to ram these omnibus measures through ?

    2) Does Piedmont Civic Association have a sense of the level of disquiet in our community?

    3) Are there steps that can be taken to force a thoughtful feedback process before these changes are enacted?

    4) Has anyone sought legal advice in this regard. I for one would be happy to contribute to that end.


    Philip Stein

Leave a Comment