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Planning for the future

Submitted by on 1, May 12, 2009 – 6:00 amNo Comment

12Come Friday, Alameda’s Planning & Building Department is going to be half its current size, and the impact on the Island’s long-range planning efforts is already starting to show. One victim: A proposal to create new design rules for remodeling the Island’s ranch homes.

The surprise proposal sprang from two years’ worth of efforts to create a special zoning district for a three-block neighborhood of ranch homes off Fernside that would have made it a lot more difficult to build two-story homes there. Planning staff was leaning toward proposing design guidelines for remodel jobs in the neighborhood – until just a few weeks ago, when they decided it would be a good idea to create the guidelines for ranch homes across the Island.

Members of the board, who didn’t seem all that enthused about the zoning proposal to begin with (“You don’t make policy for the one guy who’s pissed off at his neighbor,” board member Patrick Lynch said after the board decided to continue the item at its last meeting) passed a recommendation to consider it along to the City Council – providing the to-be-downsized planning department has time to work on it.

Other major planning projects in the pipe include green building rules and the city’s long overdue density bonus ordinance, which would allow developers who provide affordable housing to ask for increased density and breaks on planning rules. (The board also moved its discussion about new parking rules for downtown to an undetermined future date, at staff’s request.)

“We’re in a little bit of a limbo position for now,” said senior planner Andrew Thomas, who was spared the ax. (His boss, Planning & Building Director Cathy Woodbury, was not. Doug Garrison, who was the planner in charge of the Fernside zoning project, and Mohammed Hill, the assistant city attorney who was sitting on the Planning Board meeting Monday night, are also apparently on their way out the door.)

If they’re ever enacted, the design guidelines would be included in a broader set for other types of homes like Craftsmans and Victorians that was put in place in 2005. (Interestingly, Thomas said the city didn’t start doing design review on single-family homes until the late 1980s.)

Thomas said he’d find out more about the reorganization of city services, what he called the “second half of the reduction in services,” next week. As I always say, stay tuned.

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