Planning Commissioners Tighten Yard Parking Ordinance By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday December 16, 2005

Overriding the recommendation of Planning Director Dan Marks and his staff, Berkeley planning commissioners Wednesday voted to crack down on parking in rear and side yards. 

Commissioner Gene Poschman, a strong proponent of the change, said the revision—if adopted by the City Council—would give nearby residents a chance to weigh in before a property owner paves over a backyard to stow an RV or “a couple of junkers.” 

In zoning language, a yard is defined as the area between a property line and whatever setback distance is required to maintain a space between adjacent structures—although “yards” can also be on rooftops and in courtyards in larger buildings. 

Yard parking became an issue in the case of the “Flying Cottage” at 3045 Shattuck Ave. when city staff reviewed the legal history of barring parking spaces in required yard spaces. 

Though 1999 revisions of city zoning ordinances had banned parking in legally mandated yards, city staff continued to allow such parking because other sections of the code referred to yard parking. ZAB had originally intended to require parking at another site in the case of 3045 Shattuck Ave., but it relented after a planning staff report.  

The city currently requires an administrative use permit (AUP) before allowing parking in a front yard. An AUP is a document issued by city staff and requires that neighbors be notified of all proposed changes. 

Debra Sanderson, the planning staffer assigned to serve as secretary to the Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB), also noted that no use permits of any kind were required to build or demolish a garage or carport in the setback areas. 

“ZAB also noted that (the revision) creates an incentive to build more visible structures” than allowing continued by-right paving in the yards, Sanderson said. “They’re also concerned about keeping back yards open.” 

Enforcement, too, could be an issue, she said. 

Marks said requiring a permit would also place more demands on staff at the Permit Center. 

Robert Lauriston, who lives near the Flying Cottage and is a fixture at ZAB debates about the building, said he disagreed with many of the city staff’s contentions. 

“We don’t see any discussion of what’s the best policy in the staff report. By-right is not the best policy,” he said. 

The debate touched on a number of issues, including parking requirement for so-called accessory dwelling units permitted under state law. 

At one point, Commissioner David Stoloff suggested holding off on the issue for several months so the commission could handle other issues on an overcrowded schedule recently expanded by the City Council. 

But the issue was scheduled as a hearing and a vote was required. 

Stoloff moved to accept the staff recommendation to leave parking in side and rear yards on a by-right basis, and was joined by Samuels, Chair Harry Pollack and Larry Gurley, the newest commissioner. Helen Burke, Sara Shumer and Poschman voted no, with Susan Wengraf and Mike Sheen abstaining. 

The numbers for the vote on the administrative use permit requirement were exactly the same, with Poschman, Burke, Shumer and Sheen voting yes, Pollack, Stoloff and Samuels voting no and Wengraf and Gurley abstaining. 

It was then that Wengraf changed her vote to the yes column—“in the interest of not having another meeting on this”—and the change passed. 

“Staff may have an alternative recommendation to the council,” said Marks, to which Poschman replied, “As George Bush says, ‘Bring it on!’” 


Gorman Furniture Building 

In a much less controversial case with virtually no discussion before a unanimous vote, commissioners approved conversion of the Gorman Furniture Building at 2259 Telegraph Ave. into condos. 

Owner David Clahan restored the venerable landmarked building, constructed in two phases in 1877 and 1906, and reconfigured the interior. 

The building consists of six condominium units—two dwelling units on each of the two upper floors, with two ground-level commercial spaces.