Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Proposed Changes To San Leandro Zoning Code Expand Downtown San Leandro To Residential Neighborhoods

We need to have a community conversation on the degree of development that should be permitted outside of San Leandro’s downtown.  Specifically, should buildings appropriate for our downtown be built next to residential neighborhoods?

For context, in 2007, after a multi-year process with extensive public input, the City Council adopted a Transit Oriented Development (“TOD”) Plan to "guide new development in downtown San Leandro for the next 20 to 30 years."  The plan’s objective is to channel the majority of new residential growth to downtown San Leandro, within walking distance of BART, thereby lessening residents’ dependence on cars.

As shown in this map at page 35 of the TOD Plan, a buffer of lower density professional, commercial and multi-unit housing was created between downtown San Leandro and the residential neighborhoods on the northeast side of the city.  

The buffer is reflected in the City's current zoning code (below).  Dense development, marked as Downtown Area 2 or DA-2, is to occur close to East 14th Street.  Less dense development, including office space for professionals (dentists, doctors, accountants, lawyers, etc.), marked as P, was to remain along Estudillo Avenue between the downtown and residential neighborhoods starting at Bancroft Avenue.

Today, as part of updating the City’s General Plan, staff has proposed changes to the zoning code which eliminate this buffer.  Over 20 properties along Estudillo Avenue from the Estudillo Fire Station to Bancroft Avenue are to be re-zoned to allow for mixed-use apartment complexes that can reach 50 feet or 5 stories in height in stead of their present designation as P or professional office building.  

Here is the new zoning map for the area, reflecting staff's proposed changes:

Over time, the professional office buildings will be demolished and replaced with mix-use apartment complexes that yield a much greater profit for the property owners than if the sites remain zoned exclusively for office space.  

This violates the City's Transit Oriented Development Plan which calls for future residential growth to be channeled into the core of Downtown San Leandro near the BART station thereby lessening resident's dependence on cars.

A developer has already purchased one site at 1300 and 1380 Bancroft Avenue, which consists of two office buildings at the intersection of Estudillo and Bancroft Avenues immediately opposite Bancroft Middle School.  Although the site is zoned exclusively for office space, the developer intends to demolish the existing buildings and replace them with a 47-foot tall, mixed-use 51-unit apartment complex.

What is Next?  How Your Voice Can Be Heard

Neither the Planning Commission nor City Council have voted on the zoning changes.  The Planning Commission will be reviewing them on June 16th.  The City Council will examine the zoning changes on July 5th

Both meetings are at City Hall and start at 7 p.m.  The meetings are open to the public and public comments will be taken.  If you cannot attend the meetings, please contact the Mayor and City Council at and share your views.  

Background Information on the General Plan and Zoning Code

The City is updating its General Plan, which is required by state law.  The General Plan covers a wide variety of concerns and issues, including land use.  

The proposed General Plan Update would replace the City’s existing General Plan, which was last comprehensively updated in 2002. Along with the General Plan Update, the proposed project also includes Zoning Code amendments to implement the proposed General Plan.  

The General Plan is a narrative document.  It doesn't define the use of specific properties.  That is what a Zoning Code does.  The City is also looking at its Zoning Code and making certain changes in conjunction with the General Plan update.  

In a nutshell, a zoning code tells everyone how a property can be used.  Zoning codes create predictability and regulate land use.  If a site is zoned to be an office building which can be 250 feet tall and someone buys that site and wants to build a new, 250 foot office building, the city has to approve the project.  The city can't say no. If neighbors don't like having a tall office building next to them, that doesn't matter.  The zoning code permits construction of the building. Staff would have to issue the permits to authorize the project to proceed.

However, if the developer wanted a housing complex, e.g. not a permitted use for that property under the zoning code, then city could say no.  

The city could also say yes, allowing a variance to the zoning code.  Prior to that decision being made, notice would have to be given to neighbors and community.  There would be an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the matter at a public hearing. The decision whether or not to grant the variance would be made by a public body (in San Leandro's case the Board of Zoning Adjustments with the potential for appeal to the City Council).  

To understand Zoning Code maps, you need to know what the zoning codes stand for.  Relevant to the discussion above are the following codes:

DA-2 (Downtown Area 2). To implement specific provisions of the Downtown San Leandro Transit-Oriented Development Strategy by providing for designated areas on the periphery of the Downtown core where new development shall be sensitive to and of a scale consistent with adjacent Residential Districts and where mixed use developments are allowed and encouraged but not required.

P Professional Office District. To provide opportunities for offices at appropriate locations, subject to development standards and landscaping requirements that prevent significant adverse effects on adjacent uses. Retail activity is not appropriate.

RS Residential Single-Family District. To provide opportunities for single-family residential land use in neighborhoods, subject to appropriate standards. 

RD Residential Duplex District. To provide opportunities for two-family housing at appropriate locations.

RM Residential Multi-Family District. To provide opportunities for multiple residential uses, including town houses, condominiums, multi-dwelling structures, or cluster housing with landscaped open space for residents’ use, and apartments. Single-family and duplex dwellings are permitted uses in these districts. Four (4) types of multi-family districts are established:
  • RM-3000 District, where the density is 14.5 dwellings per gross acre.
  • RM-2500 District, where the density is 17.5 dwellings per gross acre.
  • RM-2000 District, where the density is 22 dwellings per gross acre.

  • RM-1800 District, where the density is 24 dwellings per gross acre.


Many people, city staff, the City Council, Planning Commissioners have worked long and diligently on developing the City's new General Plan. There is much as that is positive in the document. However, certain zoning code changes proposed in conjunction with the new General Plan will, if approved by the Planning Commission and City Council, have a significant, negative impact on our neighborhoods.

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