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City moving to streamline homebuilding regs

Submitted by on 1, July 14, 2009 – 5:50 amNo Comment

9The plummeting economy and the corresponding decline in building and remodel projects led the city leadership to sack half the Planning & Building Department just a few short months ago. But the department’s freshly appointed leader hopes to use the lull to make major changes to the city’s planning and zoning rules – including changes that could eliminate the years-long delays some people have faced when they try to add on to their homes or build new ones.

Looks like Assistant City Manager David Brandt’s job duties have been expanded to include running the planning department (former director Cathy Woodbury was among the 16 department staffers pink-slipped in May). At Monday’s Planning Board meeting, he laid out a “back-to-basics” agenda that includes “modernizing” the zoning and development rules for the Island’s residential areas.

“The zoning ordinance – most of it hasn’t been updated in 40 years,” Brandt told the board. He said the rules are so vague they often lead to inconsistent decisions from planners, frustration for permit applicants and head-scratching from board members who lack clear rules to follow.

Not too long after Brandt made his comments, the board heard an appeal of their 2007 decision to approve the expansion of a two-unit building. The city had apparently signed off on the project but then told the property owner to stop working after construction had started because they had failed to notify neighbors of their right to appeal the decision.

New rules “will provide more predictability, make the development code easier to interpret by the public and reduce the need for variances and exceptions,” planning staff wrote in its list of priorities for the coming year.

Brandt said he hopes to have new rules in place sometime this year. Other priorities for the year include new city land use and housing plans, a major rezoning effort that could bring more homes to the city’s northern waterfront, rules governing medical marijuana dispensaries and state-mandated rules for allowing developers who build affordable housing into their projects to increase the number of homes they are allowed to build (the council is actually slated to hear this last one, the “density bonus” ordinance, at its July 21 meeting).

Board members said they’d like to see green and sustainable building ordinances moved toward the top of the department’s priority list.

In other planning news, it sounds like Encinal Terminals owner Peter Wang has dropped his request that the city allow him to continue to maintain industrial uses at the site.

Wang, who had planned to redevelop the site and surrounding land to include homes, a hotel and a marketplace – had asked the city to allow the uses for another six years, when he expects the economy to turn around and development projects to start happening again. But neighbors said they are through with the truck traffic they have long endured there.

Separately, the board okayed a request to allow Wang’s current tenant, shipping container retailer ConGlobal Industries, to stay on the property for 10 more months while they transition to a new site in Oakland. They also said they’d wait a month to decide whether to rezone Wang’s property for the mixed use development he has proposed.

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