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.

Montclarions Are Teenagers

Today I was bragging about our successful wine festival to some Peninsula folks, and realized exactly how I sounded:  like a classic rebellious teen, proud of my identity and pulling away from my comfortable Oakland support system.

Regarding the Montclair festival, the scale felt just right.  There were people mellowing out to the jazz, milling around the kids games, and even getting massages at the good-health booths.  Of course, the rest were making their way through the mostly-California wine tastings.  We had a nice Sunday.

By comparison, the recent Oakland festival was a grown-up event.  It had multiple music venues, tons of booths, and participatory art on a grand scale.  It was something you would expect from a major city.  We liked playing downtown with the whole family, over Labor Day weekend.

Montclair attempts to assert its own identity, despite having no exact geographical boundaries.  Oakland Tribune reporter Peggy Stinnett once declared: “It is not a town of its own even if it is called Montclair Village.  Children grow up there believing the village is a town and when asked, they’ll say they are from Montclair.  I guess they think it’s sort of a suburb to nearby Oakland.”

We have tried to declare independence, sort of.  “Ever so often in Montclair’s history, residents have proposed seceding from Oakland. But it has never taken hold because the people have not wanted to assume the municipal burdens the independence would involve, and many of them like being a Village in Oakland.  Also, Oakland voters would have to agree. Let’s just forget I ever mentioned it,” said Stinnett.

At Least Montclair Makes The Grade

Montclair’s Mountain and Antioch intersection makes the grade!  We’re one of the 18 Defining Intersections in Oakland, according to the latest issue of Oakland Magazine.  This spot really is our city-center, where you run into everyone just by hanging out.

Our intersection is described as a “crucial crossroads” where the benches are always full.  There are a few tips of the hat to yesteryear, including the historic Julia Morgan-designed Hansel and Gretel firehouse down the street.  (Speaking of which, we have to decide what to do with that place.)

Sometimes I am concerned that old Montclair is a dowager and not sufficiently hip compared to other Oakland burgs.  It’s a reliable, steady-eddy kind of village.  It’s very easy to live here.  But a destination for others beyond the locals?  Not so much.

We earned respect because there is a basic character to the Village that’s grown organically over time.  The Village has been settled, period.  There’s no super-gentrification and no new stucco overhaul except for the Lucky Supermarket (nee Albertsons) below.

Besides Montclair, three of our nearby neighbors made the grade.  I’m not surprised that Rockridge, Piedmont and even little Glenview are included in the intersections – they all are pretty nice alternatives when we want to leave our village for a little dining, movie or what have you.

Anyway, I’m sort of proud of the article because it lists the typical places Montclarions go to eat, shop, exercise and run errands.  The simple, walkable village is a dying breed but we still have one.  I guess it doesn’t matter that we don’t attract much attention, but this recognition feels right.

How Walkable Is Montclair?

Well, it depends on exactly where you stand.  This question is typically raised by people considering a move to Montclair, as they wander around the confusing topography.

Here’s one tool that delivers a walk score related to nearby shopping, schools and parks.  These calculations are supposed to measure how “easy it is to live a car-lite lifestyle.”  When you achieve 70/100, then it’s possible to go car-free.

Of course, Montclair scores depend the delta between you and the Village.  If you live next to the coffee shops, then you’re in luck:  Thornhill Coffee Shop rates a 69/100, while Peets jumps to 88/100.

When you live higher up, it’s not practical to shop on foot.  Redwood Regional Park (Skyline) rates a paltry 8/100, surrounded by nature and a few ridge line homes.

As you move through the hills, the walk scores don’t improve much.  Places like Farallon Way (26), Robin Hood Way (35) and Ascot Drive (also 35) are far from stores or other services.

Still there are walkers out there.  We have an Oakland walking map that marks ideal streets and staircases, and use it frequently.  Yet most folks are exercising their dogs or themselves, rather than shopping.

The upshot?  Cars remain a way of life around these parts.  We’re dependent on guzzlers for work commutes and daily errands too.

Come One, Come All

What’s happening in Montclair? What do Montclarions think about it?

Today in Montclair has officially arrived here! Feel free to visit every few days, and we’ll let you know what we think about the local news, shindigs — and everything else in our faire village.

We were blogging at 94611.net before, and the corporate owner has discontinued blogs. However, you will see the same active commentary and reactions here. Plus it’s even easier to share, so don’t hold back.

I look forward to our virtual coffee klatsch.