Mar 5 2017

ANALYSIS: Zoning Changes at March 6, 2017 Council Meeting

Numerous changes to Piedmont building laws are proposed for Chapter 17 of the City Code. Piedmonters generally are not aware of the significance of Chapter 17 on their property and lives until they, their neighbors, or the City considers changes to property, such as: building a fence, remodeling a house, excavating, changing property lines, or adding an additional living space.

The City Council will consider proposed changes and a possible first reading of the ordinance on Monday, March 6, 2017 during their regular Council meeting, starting at 7:30 p.m., 120 Vista Avenue.  The meeting will be broadcast live on Channel 27 and from the City website for remote viewing. 

Lack of public involvement and engagement

Much has been made of the lack of information and interactive opportunities provided to Piedmonters and how proposed construction laws might impact them and their community. Some familiar with the City Charter’s intent and language have found the zone use proposals inconsistent with the Charter’s requirement of voter approvals.

Many items proposed are an improvement; others modifications change the meaning of the original code language and that of the City Charter.  Some items typically found in other cities’ ordinances appear to be missing in the “comprehensive” proposal.  There are two parts to the proposal – the ordinance (Chapter 17) and the “Interim Design Review” proposal.  It is unclear on why some items are being repealed prior to replacement.

Following is an abbreviated, partial overview of some matters of consideration:

  1. Omission of a standard for public safety in regard to traffic impacts and parking needs
  2. Misinterpretation of City Charter in regard to voter rights to determine uses allowed in zones and size of zones
  3. New cost to neighbors or applicants to have matters considered by the Planning Commission
  4. Reduction in notices publicizing what is being considered by the City Planning Director and new policies
  5. Apartments on top of commercial buildings such as Mulberry’s to 3 floors in height adjacent to Havens School and across from Piedmont Emergency facilities
  6. Reduction in the required size and frontage of parcels in Lower Piedmont
  7. No setback or building height restrictions on City property
  8. Lack of clear definition of Accessory Structure
  9. Disparate division of residential zones with different requirements
  10. Reduced requirements for parking space size and number of spaces
  11. Increased development in Piedmont Civic Center near schools, civic activities, and emergency services
  12. Unclear as to which fences require design review
  13. Corner property obstruction limits established
  14. Existing accessory residential units grandfathered 
  15. No rentals less than 30 days allowed (airbnb style)
  16. Appeal process timing does not allow for Planning Commission verification of their decision before scheduling a Council appeal.
  17. Traffic and safety requirement omitted from Planning Commission consideration for certain variances
  18. Ten year period for low income accessory housing rentals  where  parking requirements are forgiven
  19. No requirement for longer term low income housing rentals
  20. No time limit for applicants to withdraw Planning Commission consideration of application prior to the hearing
  21. No provision to request architects to allow copies of their plans during public review
  22. Reclassification, a City Charter provision, is misinterpreted in the ordinance language. 
  23. Safety is not emphasized in Design Review Guidelines
  24. Title of “Director”(unclear to whom this refers) determines what is a “significant change” or a “minor modification” to Planning Commission approved plans without clear definitions.
  25. Planning Staff approves plans up to $125,000 (annually adjusted for inflation) unless there is an expensive fee paid for an appeal to the Planning Commission.
  26. New language on zoning appears to conflict with the City Charter.
  27. No language regarding overseeing the true cost of projects in relation to a building permit is included. 
  28. Code language fails to acknowledge the right of voters to control zoning uses (classifications) and boundaries.
  29. Reference to the City Charter in zoning regulations does not provide the reader with actual Charter language.
  30. The right of a Planning Commissioner, Council Member, or City Administrator to call for a review of a planning decision is unclear and does not specify the planning decision origin.
  31. Caveat added to the right of the above noted individuals to require a review of planning decisions has been hampered by new non-disclosure language of the requester’s opinion to one other participant could be against the Constitution. 
  32. Designated views are limited to distant views.
  33. Preservation of historic public buildings is missing.
  34. Traffic, congestion, pedestrian access, bicycle routes, parking, and right of way impacts are not fully identified in design review.
  35. Unclear if items noted for repeal are being replaced within the ordinance.
  36. Height of accessory structures limited to 7 feet measured from unclear point
  37. Definitions and terms within the “Interim Design Review” proposal are inconsistent with proposed code language.
  38. Information sheet is inconsistent with proposed code.
  39. Parking, driveway, disabled access, vehicle turnarounds: key elements to traffic and public safety – are insufficiently specified.
  40. Inconsistent use of language, example: Director – Planning Director or Public Works Director ?       
  41. Setbacks for residences or other buildings to be measured from the building wall rather than any eave overhangs potentially making building structures closer together.
  42. Commercial uses allowed on public property
  43. No parking requirements for public uses
  44. Greater control over planning matters by the Planning Director
  45. Fewer responsibilities for Planning Commissioners

Numerous other issues of interest to Piedmonters are available in the 500+ page documents. Readers are referred to prior PCA articles here and City sources here.

Editors Note: Attempts have been made to present to the public some of the issues related to the Chapter 17 proposal. Any incorrect statements were legitimately made in attempting to explain to the public some proposal aspects. Corrections and comments are always welcomed on this website. See below or email

Leave a Comment