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March 13, 2018 > Editorial: If it fits?

Editorial: If it fits?

As the value of land increases, is the inverse true for property owners? That is the basic question at the heart of current debates at council meetings and other public forums. State and regional bodies have weighed into the discussion, often mandating bias toward affordable housing. While affordable housing is an essential element for our communities, just where does the proper balance lie? New State of California laws are increasingly restricting local discretion over zoning regulations and control of growth, opting for density over aesthetics. Mounting pressure of massive megacompany campus facilities has exacerbated an existing Bay Area land rush. Where do the public interest, historical preservation and landowner rights intersect?

In Fremont, recent applications for preliminary zoning changes to allow residential development have become entangled with new State regulations and concerns about transit-oriented development and historical preservation. The undeveloped hills above Fremont are an example of the people?s prerogative when a common resource that improves the quality of life for all is at stake. Several propositions have gained voter approval when the question of property rights versus a common resource was put to the test. The East Bay Regional Park District and other local, regional, state and federal parklands are examples of preservation of land, historic structures and monuments.

Historic registries of such resources have been established to protect these artifacts. Fremont?s Historical Architectural Review Board [HARB] is designed to be a watchdog over modifications or removal of important these treasures. As an example, a proposed development at Ursa Drive included some preservation of historical structures although in a different configuration. Although for some the ideal resolution would be to preserve the land and structures in situ, that would only be possible in the long term with creation of a historical park. This is impractical given acquisition and maintenance costs. The best alternative is development by a well-known and respected developer with partial preservation of the site. This was the final decision, although debated and certainly not unanimous.

It is difficult to decide when state mandates threaten the status quo and/or preservation of civic character. The best compromise may be recognition that as pressure mounts to build large, dense structures with less and less local discretion, developers with a proven track record to act responsibly give some hope for a rational solution. Protectionist attitudes will end with grief since local control is eroding at a rapid pace. If sentiment is to control our own destiny, local measures are necessary to protect valuable historic resources through purchase and preservation of historical parks, purchase of open spaces and allowing reasonable development before we are completely stripped of any decision-making authority. It appears that local planning, as flawed as it may be, is moving toward computerization, artificial intelligence and the outside authority of severe rules. As Defense Attorney Johnnie Cochran said in the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial, ?If it doesn?t fit, you must acquit.? Just as the prosecution was destroyed by this argument, so can any reasonable objection to development in the face of state laws.

Residential projects that have recently met with opposition should be reviewed carefully since as new state laws take effect, it will not be a matter of reason or community character. Rather, if the proposed development fits guidelines that may, if fact, be diametrically opposed to neighborhood character, there will be no recourse. Will our local elected leaders be able to stem the tide and power of Sacramento? From recent legislation, it appears residents may need to rethink an effective strategy to maintain neighborhood character even if the glove is not a perfect fit.

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