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Department of Planning & Development
Department of Planning & Development

Panoramic Hill Project: Modifications to ES-R Zoning District

The City Council is scheduled to consider modifications to the ESR (Panoramic Hill) zoning regulation on April 27, 2010.  The staff report for the ordinance will be available on the City Council agenda website on the Thursday before the meeting (April 22, 2010).  The draft revised ordinance is found below. 

A draft ordinance was initially presented to the City Council on January 26, 2010 for adoption, but the matter was continued to the April 27, 2010 meeting in order to allow additional time for staff to meet with concerned Panoramic Hill residents.  Staff met with representatives of the Panoramic Hill Association and is recommending some minor revisions to the ordinance that address some of the residents’ concerns.  In summary, the revisions would allow for existing property owners to modify the interior of houses to add no more than one bedroom without triggering additional parking requirements (Section 23D.24.080)  and have made explicit that any Specific Plan consider the overall circulation needs of the area, and not just emergency access (Section 23D.24.040). 

The Planning Commission recommended revisions to the ESR (Panoramic Hill) zoning regulations on October 28 2009.  Panoramic Hill’s steep topography and location in a high fire hazard area close to the Hayward Fault make the highly inadequate emergency access/egress a particular threat to public safety.  In addition to the public safety hazard, there is inadequate sewage infrastructure and poor storm drainage conditions.  The ESR zoning regulations are already some of the most strict in the City, and include provisions unique to Panoramic Hill (PH) such as limits on the size of a house, a requirement for at least two parking spaces, and larger than usual separation requirements between structures.  Despite these regulations, new homes have been built or approved, and bedrooms have been added accommodating more residents on the Hill and putting them at risk. 

Several events and issues have increased the urgent need for modifying the existing zoning.  These events include:

  • The Local Agency Formation Commission’s decision to expand Berkeley’s Sphere of Influence to include the Oakland part of the neighborhood;
  • Oakland’s adoption of zoning regulations increasing minimum lot size to 20,000 square feet; 
  • UC Berkeley’s approval of plans for modifications to Memorial Stadium which will have significant impacts on access to Panoramic Hill; 
  • Board of Regents approval of a Long Range Development Plan proposing net increases of 980,000 square feet of floor area and 1,000 persons over the next 20 years at the Lawrence National Laboratory; and
  • Revisions to the Alameda County Code allowing development of properties with challenging site/soil conditions such as steep slopes, slow percolation rates or high groundwater by using advanced septic system technology.

In response to these new conditions and the underlying safety and infrastructure conditions, on June 17, 2008, the City Council imposed an initial moratorium on most new development and additions; that moratorium was subsequently extended to June 15, 2010. 

Staff held two community meetings in 2009 to discuss the issues and a draft ordinance with Panoramic Hill residents.   The Planning Commission held two meetings on the revised ordinance and recommended ESR amendments to the City Council.  At each step in the process, Staff made revisions to the ordinance in response to concerns expressed by residents and the Commission.  However, the fundamental approach has remained intact:  to adopt strict standards that curtail development on Panoramic Hill so that as few additional people as possible are placed at risk until the underlying infrastructure issues are addressed. 

The longer range planning process is to prepare a Specific Plan for the Panoramic Hill area to address access and infrastructure issues and establish the area’s development capacity in light of environmental and fiscal constraints.  A Specific Plan would include a financing plan to fund necessary infrastructure and road improvements.  Such a planning effort would need to involve the City of Oakland property owners who have the bulk of the development potential and face the same risks and constraints as Berkeley Panoramic Hill residents.  Because neither City has funding to cover the cost for preparing a Specific Plan and Environmental Impact Report, it is likely that property owners will need to raise much of the funding needed to undertake this work. 

The following links are to most of the background material prepared during the process.   

Link to following documents:

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