Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Review of 1388 Bancroft Project Before San Leandro Planning Commission


Here is an update on the proposed 73-unit apartment complex development for 1388 Bancroft Avenue. The photo of site above was taken on Joaquin Avenue looking at the parking lot of 1388 Bancroft, the neighboring homes, and Bancroft Middle school. The proposed 47 to 53-foot apartment complex will be both taller than the telephone poll in the foreground (by a good 15 feet) and the middle school in the background (by 20 feet). Thirteen foot car stackers will extend along the property line with the neighboring homes, exceeding the height of the current fence by six feet.
The project violates the Zoning Code. The only way it can be built, as proposed, is for a majority of the City Council to change the Zoning Code.
Specifically, the developer wants to change the property's designation under the Zoning Code from a Professional Office District to Downtown Area 3 (which allows for much greater density and requires less parking spaces). Downtown Area 3 is a designation for the center core of Downtown San Leandro near East 14th Street and the San Leandro BART station. It does not exist in or adjacent to our single-family and small scale apartment residential neighborhoods.
Just last year, after considerable public input, the zoning designation of Professional Office District properties was altered to allow for housing on these sites, where none had been permitted before.
On November 16, 2017, the San Leandro Planning Commission reviewed the project.
The Commission split 2 to 2 on upholding the recommendations by City staff to deny the developer's request for a change in the Zoning Code. The Commission then voted 4 to 0 to continue the public hearing until December 14, 2017, when the Commission will meet again to review the matter.

City staff had developed extensive findings of fact, based on overwhelming evidence, supporting denial of the request to change the Zoning Code. These findings included:
1.    The proposed re-zoning of the site as DA-3 property is inappropriate and inconsistent with the General Plan because the rezoning “would enable a higher and greater intensity development than designated.  The DA-3 zoning designation is specified for the inner core of the Downtown rather than on the outlying and perimeter areas.”
2.    The proposed rezoning detracts from character of surrounding neighborhoods by permitting “infill development that is bulkier and more massive than the existing adjacent and immediate homes which would not be compatible nor would it maintain the aesthetics of the neighborhood.”
3.    The proposed rezoning “would not respect an appropriate density transition. It would enable an abrupt change from the existing low density housing . . .”
4.    The proposed rezoning “would reduce the required setback requirements. . . from 15 feet to 10 feet . . . [increasing] the appearance of bulkiness and massiveness of the apartment building.”
5.    The proposed rezoning “would enable multi-family proposal with a parking requirement less than current requirement at a higher parking ratio, resulting in a shortage of adequate parking” which would negatively affect the immediate neighborhood with overflow parking on the adjacent streets.
6.    The 13-foot tall fence along eastern side of property “would be out of scale and detract from the character of the single-family homes, where the maximum height of residential fencing is a maximum of seven-feet tall . . .”
7.     “The placement of outdoor parking stackers adjacent to single family homes presents an audible and visual public nuisance.” 
8.    “The placement of the proposed building, wall, and parking stackers result in altering access to sunlight and views of the sky, detrimental to properties in the vicinity.”
9.    The proposed project is “outside the limit of a qualifying radius” for the Downtown San Leandro Transit Oriented Development Strategy. 
10.  “The project would exceed the allowable density and would be deficient in open space, parking, and in minimum setback requirements from the current P Profession Office District.” 
11.  “[T]he project density of 58 units per acre would exceed the maximum allowable requirement of 24 units per acre.  The 47 to 53 feet height would exceed the P District requirement that permits a maximum height of 30 feet.
12.  “With its exceedances of maximum requirements, its shortfall of minimum requirements and with its physical impacts due to its bulky and large size, the project plan is too intensive and overdevelops the property . . .”
Back to the Planning Commission - it consists of 7 members. They are appointed by the Mayor and City Council and tasked, among other responsibilities, with making recommendations to the City Council on changes to the Zoning Code.
For the Planning Commission to take action, four members have to agree. In other words, a majority of the commission itself must support an action, not a majority of the commission members present at a particular meeting. Last night, two members of the commission were absent: Esther Collier (appointed by Council member Pete Bellaw) and Ken Pon (appointed by Mayor Pauline Cutter). Collier is the longest serving member of the commission, and thus possesses the greatest institutional knowledge of the City General Plan and procedures for changing the Zoning Code of any member on the Commission. Pon served for multiple terms on the San Leandro School Board and lives on the north side of town in Bay O Vista. Accordingly, when the Commission met only five members were present. At the beginning of the meeting, Tony Breslin, who lives closest to the project in the Estudillo Estates area and is an appointee of Council member Deborah Cox, announced that the Fair Political Practices Commission had determined that he had a potential financial conflict of interest in the project.
Breslin then recused himself. I believe the conflict is based solely on the proximity of his house to the project. Thus, the Planning Commission was immediately deprived of the one member with the greatest personal knowledge of the neighborhood where the project is located. All four Commissioners remaining expressed concern over the Bay Area housing crisis, as did most speakers. Those opposed to the project, including myself, emphasized that would they support a smaller development, one that fit within the Zoning Code's limit of 31 apartment units and with a lower height.
Of the 40 plus San Leandrans that spoke at the meeting, I believe all but two present were opposed.
The Commission also received 124 email messages concerning the project from San Leandrans. An incredible 123 of these messages were in opposition to the project. Commissioners Denise Abero, appointed by Council member Lee Thomas, and Jim Hussey, appointed by Council member Corina Lopez, supported staff's recommendation to uphold the Zoning Code (and deny the proposed project). Both joined the Planning Commission in 2015. Thus, they served on the Commission when the City updated its General Plan and were aware of the community concerns about the project (which at the time was a proposed 51 unit complex) when the Zoning Code was modified in conjunction with the General Plan update. The two newest members of the Planning Commission, appointed in 2017, voted to overturn the recommendation by staff and approval the project.
These were Commissioners Richard Brennan (a resident of Heron Bay and appointee of Council member Benny Lee) and Thomas Baker (an appointee of Council member Ed Hernandez). Neither served on the Commission when the General Plan update occurred. Both lacked knowledge of what occurred in 2016, e.g. the community supported a rezoning of 1388 Bancroft Avenue to allow housing on the site (previously no housing was permitted) but with its density capped at 31 units. In December, hopefully Pon and Collier will attend the hearing and vote with Abero and Hussey to uphold staff's recommendation.
Of course, any Commissioner is free to change his/her vote from last night. My hope is that on further consideration all Commissioners will vote to maintain our Zoning Code as it stands presently. If that occurs, the matter is not over. The developer will likely take an appeal to the City Council. If the Commission were to approve the project, the matter would automatically (no appeal is necessary) go the the City Council for a hearing early next year. As I noted, only the City Council has the power to change the Zoning Code.
Thus, the issue will likely be ultimately decided by the City Council in early 2018.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

City staff analysis of 1388 Bancroft Project


For those interested in the proposed rezoning of the parcel along Bancroft Avenue between Estudillo and Joaquin Avenues (1388 Bancroft) and plan to construct a 73-unit apartment complex, I highly recommend reading the proposed findings of fact drafted by City planners for the Planning Commission's review on Thursday night. The findings start at page five of this document: https://sanleandro.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=5549362&GUID=BA63E52D-3CC2-4135-885C-00394863B129 The findings are devastating to the project. Here is just a sample of the findings: 1. The proposed re-zoning of the site as DA-3 property is inappropriate and inconsistent with the General Plan because the rezoning “would enable a higher and greater intensity development than designated. The DA-3 zoning designation is specified for the inner core of the Downtown rather than on the outlying and perimeter areas.” (page 5). 2. The proposed rezoning detracts from character of surrounding neighborhoods by permitting “infill development that is bulkier and more massive than the existing adjacent and immediate homes which would not be compatible nor would it maintain the aesthetics of the neighborhood.” (page 6) 3. The proposed rezoning “would not respect an appropriate density transition. It would enable an abrupt change from the existing low density housing . . .” (page 6) 4. The proposed rezoning “would reduce the required setback requirements . . . from 15 feet to 10 feet . . . [increasing] the appearance of bulkiness and massiveness of the apartment building.” (page 6) 5. The proposed rezoning “would enable multi-family proposal with a parking requirement less than current requirement at a higher parking ratio, resulting in a shortage of adequate parking” which would negatively affect the immediate neighborhood with overflow parking on the adjacent streets. 6. The 13 foot tall fence along eastern side of property “would be out of scale and detract from the character of the single-family homes, where the maximum height of residential fencing is a maximum of seven feet tall . . .” (page 7) 7. The proposed rezoning “would enable a reduced open space requirement in an area not intended for the City’s highest density urban development.” (page 8) 8. The proposed rezoning “would result in development of bulky, large and tall building that would detract and interrupt the architectural character of the existing single-family development.” (page 9) 9. “The placement of outdoor parking stackers adjacent to single family homes presents an audible and visual public nuisance.” (page 10) 10. “The placement of the proposed building, wall, and parking stackers result in altering access to sunlight and views of the sky, detrimental to properties in the vicinity.” (page 10) 11. The proposed project is “outside the limit of a qualifying radius” for the Downtown San Leandro Transit Oriented Development Strategy. (page 10) 12. “The project would exceed the allowable density and would be deficient in open space, parking, and in minimum setback requirements from the current P Profession Office District.” (page 11) 13. “[T]he project density of 58 units per acre would exceed the maximum allowable requirement of 24 units per acre. The 47 to 53 feet height would exceed the P District requirement that permits a maximum height of 30 feet.” (page 11) 14. “With its exceedances of maximum requirements, its shortfall of minimum requirements and with its physical impacts due to its bulky and large size, the project plan is too intensive and overdevelops the property . . .” (page 11) The Planning Commission does not need to agree with every factual finding proposed by City staff. As long as the Planning Commission concludes that substantial evidence exists for one, independent factual finding that supports maintaining the current zoning designation for the property then the Commission should vote to deny the rezoning of 1388 Bancroft Avenue. I can only guess at the amount of time and energy City staff have put into the analysis and review, and consequently the expenditure of our tax dollars, of this project. But it is safe to say it has been extensive. This has gone on for two years. I truly hope that the developer will cease trying to shove a square peg into a circular hole so to speak. Please come back with a project that fits our zoning code or sell the property to another developer who is willing to work within the rules.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

City Staff Recommend Denial of Proposed Bancroft Apartment Complex



As many of you know, a developer is seeking to change the zoning of office buildings on Bancroft between Estudillo and Joaquin to Downtown Area 3 ("DA 3") property in order for him to construct a nearly 50-foot apartment complex consisting of 72 two-bedroom units and one three bedroom unit. The project is expected to generate 500 daily car trips. The parking lot for complex will have 146 parking spaces, including 13-foot car stackers positioned right next to neighboring homes. Also of note, there will be no access to the parking lot on Bancroft Avenue. The parking will be gated and accessible only from Estudillo and Joaquin Avenues. Because of higher traffic volumes along Estudillo Avenue, however, the Estudillo driveway is proposed to be limited to egress only. That means car traffic on Joaquin Avenue will increase significantly as residents and visitors driving to the apartment complex parking lot must enter from Joaquin Avenue. City staff has issued a report recommending that the Planning Commission deny the application "on the grounds that the proposed mass, scale and density of the project is incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood and that the rezoning to DA 3 is incompatible with the General Plan, Downtown Transit Oriented Development Strategy, and Zoning Code." Here is a link to the report: https://sanleandro.legistar.com/ViewReport.ashx?M=R&N=Master&GID=191&ID=3209410&GUID=B672E34A-6EC4-42CA-9BA4-AA591079FC62&Extra=WithText&Title=Legislation+Details+(With+Text) The developer's request will be heard by the San Leandro Planning Commission on Thursday, November 16th, 7 p.m., at San Leandro City Hall. The public is welcome to attend the hearing and offer its input on the proposal. If you can not attend the Thursday, November 16th Planning Commission meeting, you can voice your views on the project by emailing City staff Elmer Penaranda on or before Wednesday, November 15th at EPenaranda@sanleandro.org Mr. Penaranda will forward your message to the Planning Commissioners. You may also wish to copy the Mayor and City Council on your message by including the email address citycouncil@sanleandro.org on your message.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

What should be done when a development violates new pro-housing provisions of a zoning code?



In a recent OpEd in the NY Times on the Bay Area housing crisis, Enrico Moretti, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote,"Some restrictions make sense: Nobody wants skyscrapers poking up among Victorian houses, and nobody wants to tear down historical buildings. But many others don’t: There are scores of empty parking lots in San Francisco and Oakland that can’t be built on because of political opposition." Moretti concluded: Bay Area "urban progressives must moderate their reflexive opposition to all new market-based housing." I agree. However, knee jerk opposition to new housing has not been a characteristic of San Leandrans. We have welcomed new housing. Just look at the large affordable housing complex (called the Marea Alta) across from the downtown San Leandro BART station. Local and state tax revenues paid for the building. Hundreds of new market rate housing units in the planning or construction stage in San Leandro, all fitting within the City's Zoning Code which was updated last year, The 2016 update to the Zoning Code substantially increased allowed density and number of parcels in the San Leandro where housing can be built. But what happens when a developer proposes building a complex that egregiously violates even the new pro-housing provisions of the zoning code? Is it fair then for the neighbors to organize and insist that local officials require that the developer abide by the rules? My answer is yes. For how to get involved visit https://sites.google.com/view/1388bancroft