|An example of politics in action [long]||<– Date –> <– Thread –>|
|From: Raines Cohen (coho-Lraines.com)|
|Date: Tue, 4 Jan 2000 23:21:27 -0700 (MST)|
Today I helped modify proposed legislation in Oakland,CA that could have made it harder or more expensive for other groups to do cohousing development here... I'm sharing the story so that others can see an example of how they can get involved - and why they should be. History: A developer put together a 65-unit affordable-housing project in East Oakland, near the Eastmont mall. Neighbors and community groups got notified but because the planning commission required only design review, not a full public hearing on the impact of the development (neighbors were concerned about the effect on property values, although studies have shown that affordable housing (we're not talking public housing) does NOT reduce property values overall, and that it is not overly concentrated in that neighborhood), they couldn't effectively block it or get the project modified. The Central East Oakland District Board escalated the issue, through Councilmember Nate Miley (10/12/99, Community and Economic Development Committee), requesting a moratorium and study of rental housing, downzoning of Bancroft, Foothill and MacArthur corridors and expanding notification of "minor" zoning cases from 75 to 300 feet. City Staff went back and forth with the Committee, outlining legal and zoning implications, and prepared a report, based on consensus from community representatives, to require a MAJOR conditional use permit for multi-unit developments, with a public hearing before the Planning Commission. Staff recommended that the use permit requirement should be applied citywide... and for legal reasons, it couldn't be just for one type of housing or resident. Monday (yesterday) I picked up the report from the City Clerk's office after seeing the item mentioned in the 12/30/99 Oakland Tribune (page 1-LOCAL, by Kathleen Kirkwood). The report said that the Policy and Procedures Committee of the Planning Commission, at its 10/27/99 meeting, recommended a threshold of 10-15 units to trigger the additional requirements. Given that most cohousing projects are 12-25 units, this had the potential to make cohousing development in Oakland much more expensive and time-consuming, because: a) The cost for a Major Conditional Use Permit and notification for a multi-unit project larger than 10 units is approximately $2,000.00. Note that this is NONREFUNDABLE. b) If an initial study for environmental review is required, an additional $500 fee would be assessed. c) Should an environmental impact report be necessary, costs only go up from there. d) Planning Regulations require a decision on a use permit within 60 days of the receipt of a complete application. Permit review could require an additional 60 days if an initial study is required. Where an EIR is required, six months is needed to complete the final document and hold required public hearings. Can you say massive additional options costs? e) The public hearing creates lots more opportunities for people near and far to have their input, leading the planning commmission (or the council, when it is appealed afterwards) to modify the permit conditions or impose limitations that could make projects impractical. Summary: Based on complaints about a large affordable rental housing project in East Oakland, the city was about to initiate a policy that could make small cohousing projects anywhere in the city. ACTION: So what did I do, learning of this less than 24 hours before the Community and Economic Development Committee of the Oakland City Council was scheduled to approve the report this morning? I rearranged my schedule, put on a nice suit, and got myself to City Hall by 10:30 AM today. I submitted a speaker request card, and during the public comment section on this item, said (in my allotted 2 minutes): - I introduced myself as planning to move into Swan's as part of a cohousing project there, but as speaking before them today as a member of a new group, East Bay Cohousing, that is planning to build cohousing in Oakland, looking for sites right now. - I briefly explained cohousing, emphasizing that it is financed collectively by the individual homebuyers and that costs and timing are critical in the development process. - I pointed out that cohousing projects typically are 12-25 unit developments, in a condominium model. - I said that the 300' notification made sense, and should be extended further with internet notification citywide. - I said that the major variance requirement would make it much harder to make cohousing projects in Oakland viable. - I pointed out that several cohousing projects were already underway in Oakland. I was the only person to speak about the impact of the requirements on other types of development... the other 3 speakers were entirely concerned with making sure their neighborhood wasn't invaded by large #'s of rental projects, removing opportunities for the commercial developments they needed. The councilmembers are good at maintaining this "I'm listening" posture when you speak, but they can also emit a lot of discouraging body language... the important thing is not to get intimidated... to have a good set of notes for a brief, to-the-point comment. RESULTS: I'd imagine the committee already was leaning in this direction... certainly I don't think I had that large an effect. However: - Councilmember Dick Spees supported raising the threshold to 25 units before a major Conditional Use Permit process was required. - Councilmembers De La Fuente and Chair Brunner agreed with him. - Nate Miley pushed back a bit to try to get the limit lowered back to 10, but once he saw there was no support for his position he abstained. - The vote was 3-0, 1 abstention, to accept the report with the recommendation modified to keep the limit at 25 ... so smaller projects will NOT have to go through the extensive process (except where required by existing zoning regs or other conditions). Next stop: The Planning Commission. They're in the process of overall zoning regulations updating and tweaking to improve public process (for instance, staff wants to make height changes in downtown areas a "minor" variance), and we'll need to keep an eye on them and educate them. I very briefly spoke with the Community and Economic Development Agency guy (didn't get his name) who apparently worked on the issue and he mentioned a cohousing project on Fruitvale Avenue that's underway (he said "it's tightly packed" in terms of unit layout)... I stopped by the Permits and Planning Dept. office nextdoor afterwards and couldn't find anything about it... does anybody know about this? I also spoke with a couple of the neighborhood activists from East Oakland to make sure there were no hard feelings... the intent was not to undermine their neighborhood control. In conclusion: An hour of work today may have saved us thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours down the road. Of course, it might have been possible to change the rules further down, or get an exemption... but it might be harder, too. There are probably opportunities like this every week to do a little bit of outreach and education, locally and in other jurisdictions and at the neighborhood-group (EXTREMELY important) and state and national level.... passing right by without our noticing until it's too late ("you could have said something when we discussed this last year..."). This is why it's important to collaborate with other groups and with your community to make the world a safer place for CoHousing. Raines Raines Cohen <coho-L [at] raines.com> <http://www.swansway.com/> Off enjoying Macworld Expo this week. Member, Old Oakland [CA] Cohousing at Swan's Market Where we lost a longtime member household - it looks like a 2BR $230K unit is now available if nobody on the waitlist wants it. and Member, East Bay Cohousing [no site yet] <http://www.ebcoho.org/> Where I'll miss the first twice-a-month meeting tomorrow.
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