What Changes Matter In Hills Zoning

Although this seems like a snooze subject, the City of Oakland’s planners have been studying zoning refinements for years and hope to implement some improvements by 2011.  We’re at a stage where some adjustments to their proposals are still possible.

Our planners thoughtfully and patiently shared proposed changes for residential and commercial districts in the hills, at this Tuesday’s public meeting.  As a community service, let us attempt to shake down which parts mattered most for renovators and builders.

Adding Hills Regulations

The Oakland Hills would receive “Residential – Hillside” codes based on lot size.  The smallest zone, RH-4 (nee R-30), was redefined from lots under 5,000 square feet to lots under 6,500 (<20 percent slope) or 8,000 (>20 percent slope) square feet.  Although many lots and homes would become non-conforming, they get grandfathered status here – so no worries.

One new regulation would control Floor Area Ratios or FARs – the home’s total square feet vs. total lot size.  To prevent McMansion problems, the city proposed ratios and the smallest one might need work.  For lots under 5,000 square feet, the proposed caps were 2,000 square feet or .55 (55 percent) FARs – though Montclarions recommended .50 based on what other Bay Area cities do.

Another zoning addition would relate to Lot Coverage for homes with 20 percent-plus slopes.  For RH-4 lots, this regulation translated to 40 percent.  And for lots under 5,000 square feet, homes would be permitted up to 2,000 square feet as well.  While Montclarions applauded this footprint zoning, the 2,000 square foot exception was raised as a red flag.

Fixing Hills Regulations

Some proposed changes made good sense, including the newly-proposed Lot Height regulations.  In upslope lots, there’s a max height of 24 feet above the edge of the property line.  So if your home were built, say, 12 feet uphill, that prevented you from building a two-story home.  This change would measure from grade, which means the base of the home rather than property line below.

Downsloping homes needed some attention as well, because of many variances approved on homes constructed during this past decade.  The zoning changes would officially add two feet to wall and roof heights as the hills steepen, for homes built on 20-39, 40-59 and 60+ percent slopes.  This fix made sense to Montclarions hearing the details, last Tuesday.

Altering Village Zoning

Montclair Village has been considered an established commercial district, with a selective range of pedestrian-oriented retail.  Most of our central core was zoned “C-27,” while other shopping districts like Dimond, Rockridge and Lakeshore were “C-31” instead.  There were no cries for Village zoning changes.

Still, city planners wanted to create a new “CN-1” zone in the proposed update.  We asked the planners why and they didn’t have a direct response, but explained the minor differences.  Our take is that planners just wanted to eliminate our outlier zone and create consistency among pedestrian districts.

This new zoning would allow conditional use permits for additional business types like custom manufacturing or research services, possibly triggering unintended consequences down the line.  The Montclair Village Association (MVA) continues to provide oversight in our faire village, so no concerns were raised by Montclarions last Tuesday.

Speaking Up And More

Okay, we applaud you if you read this far.  Now how can you learn more or be heard?  First, there’s an “Area 1 meeting” on Monday, April 26th at North Oakland Senior Center (map) starting at 6:30 pm.  This gathering addresses a full-third of the city, including the hills.

You don’t have to wait until there’s a meeting next month.  City planners have also encouraged the public to email them right now, with any specific questions or opinions you might want to share – at zoningupdate@oaklandnet.com.

If you’re interested in diving into zoning materials, then brew a little coffee and visit the planning web site – and we suggest reading this update, residential zoning changes and hillside changes.  Last but not least, feel free to call the city planners at their update line, 510-238-7299.

2 thoughts on “What Changes Matter In Hills Zoning

  1. Pingback: A Better Oakland
  2. This is a great posting that describes what are now proposed changes by the city to their zoning rules, that fill in some gaps in the current rules. The new rules should be both more effective and controlling homes too big for their lots, but also be more straight forward than the current layers of prescriptive standards.

    Let’s not forget, though, there is still work to be done on The City’s “Design Review Manual for One and Two unit Residences,” which has a great standard for “Neighborhood Consistency,” (Criterion 8) – but the hills are still excluded from the Neighborhood Consistency Criterion.

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