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 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.
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.

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 the proposed building, wall, and parking stackers result in altering access to sunlight and views of the sky, detrimental to properties in the vicinity.” 

8.    The proposed project is “outside the limit of a qualifying radius” for the Downtown San Leandro Transit Oriented Development Strategy. 

9.  “[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.”

10.  “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 . . .” 

11.     “The placement of outdoor parking stackers adjacent to single family homes presents an audible and visual public nuisance.”

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.” 

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.

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