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July 6, 2004 > Planning - An Overview from the Tri-Cities

Planning - An Overview from the Tri-Cities

Changes of our communities are often viewed with some distrust. They can presage new economic growth and necessary development with beneficial results for the vast majority of citizens or create unexpected and harmful effects that overshadow any advances. Planners are futurists who look ahead and try to make sure that change is a positive experience that will far outweigh any negative impacts. TCV asked representatives of Fremont, Newark and Union City about development, redevelopment and planning issues in their cities.

"Toe of the Hill Discussion" Sparks Planned Distrct Debate

At a recent meeting of the Fremont Planning Commission (June 24, 2004), the distinction between a "Planned District" (PD) and the Zoning Code arose. There appeared to be confusion by both commission members and the public about how these planning tools relate, especially when applied to developments within the "hill area." Residents of Avalon Estates asked to be excluded from the zone designation of "Hill Open Space" claiming this would be restrictive and deny equal rights with other Avalon properties that fall below the proposed "Toe of the Hill."

Emotional arguments ranged from loss of property values, restrictions on remodeling and additions to the time and expense of presenting landscaping plans to the Planning Commission. Staff was asked to clarify how the Avalon Planned District relates to the Hillside Initiative and Senior Deputy City Attorney Larissa Seto gave a cogent response explaining the attributes of a Planned District as a zoning tool. TCV asked Ms. Seto to discuss the issue. We received the following written reply to the question of how planned districts relate to zoning codes.

All land in the City of Fremont is regulated by the zoning code. Zoning generally establishes districts which have specific rules for development as well as uses which may occur within that area. For example, the City has residential districts, such as very-low density through high density, which allow only a certain number of housing units per acre of land, and only allow uses such as houses, apartments, and some small day care facilities. These residential districts also have regulations regarding front yard, backyard and side yard minimum sizes, parking requirements based on single-family homes or apartments, maximum building heights, and other rules. Zoning districts with similar types of regulations also exist for commercial districts, industrial districts, as well as agricultural districts and other types of zoning districts. Because of the variety of land, and the different types of uses, the City of Fremont has a range of zoning districts.

If an area of land has unique characteristics, or a property owner desires an unusual project, the City of Fremont also has a Planned District (PD) zoning district which can be applied to residential, commercial, industrial, or even projects with a mix of such uses. Specific rules related to Planned Districts are found in Article 18.1 of the Fremont Municipal Code, as well as the City Council's August 16, 1998 Development Policy. The name "Planned District" clearly states the intent of this particular zoning district - that the area be planned and designed with specific detail and information about building sizes, allowed uses, density of development, architectural style, and other features.

The hallmark of a Planned District is flexibility based on the specific proposed project. Each Planned District establishes rules which only apply in that specific Planned District area of the City. These rules can deviate from the City's usual zoning district requirements based on the Planning Commission's recommendation and the City Council's determination that a proposed Planned District includes benefits to the community which offset the modifications to the more typical requirements. By adoption of a Planned District, the former zoning district, whether residential, industrial, or commercial, is eliminated from the City's zoning map, and replaced with that specific Planned District zoning district.

For example, at the City Council's meeting on June 22, 2004, the Council introduced an ordinance to establish a Planned District zoning district for portions of the Bay Street area in Irvington. This action changed the zoning district along Bay Street from a more typical commercial zoning district into the specific Bay Street Planned District (PD) zoning district. The Bay Street PD has different parking requirements, building set back standards (e.g. the distance that a structure must be separated from the sidewalk), building heights, allowable uses (e.g. the types of businesses or residences that can located in the area), and other special rules, that are both unique to the Bay Street PD, and different than the average commercial zoning district in Fremont.

Other past examples of Planned Districts include some low-density single-family residential developments in the Fremont hills. Zoning regulations in place in the Fremont Municipal Code allowed such low-density residential Planned Districts to cluster housing behind visible ridgelines as well as preserve up to 40% of the property area as open space. When the Planning Commission and City Council considered such Planned Districts, such community benefits were balanced with other aspects of the development proposal.

The City's stated purpose for Planned District zoning districts is: "To encourage and provide a means for effectuating desirable development, redevelopment, rehabilitation and conservation in the city, which features variations in siting, mixed land uses and/or varied dwelling types." Each proposed Planned District receives careful consideration related to the uniqueness of the property and the proposed project, the overall benefits to the community, and the variations from standard regulations sought by the property owner. The Planned District is a useful and flexible zoning tool for the City of Fremont.

The Fremont Planning Commission tabled the Toe of the Hill decision until their next meeting on Thursday, July 8, 2004.

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