Planners Mull Code, OK Condos

By Richard Brenneman
Friday October 26, 2007

Berkeley’s Planning Commissioners spent their meeting Wednesday talking about what they’d like to do. 

Commissioner Susan Wengraf asked commissioners and planning staff to consider the implications of letter from a contractor detailing his difficulties with the city’s zoning code. 

The issues around the Prince Street building permit application were complex, as Acting Land-Use Planning Manager Debra Sanderson explained in a memo to the commission. Part of the problem involved driveways that were wide enough for early 20th century cars but too narrow for their 21st century counterparts. 

Add the city’s parking requirements and the effort to turn a basically unusable garage into a mother-in-law apartment, and the homeowners found themselves caught in a complex of seemingly conflicting codes. 

While Sanderson said the would-be builder’s version of events differed from city’s staff’s perception of the events, she acknowledged that there are many areas where the city’s zoning code could be improved. 

“For two hours every Wednesday staff would go over items for discussion, though we’ve got it down to about an hour now,” she said. 

While many of the problems stemmed from interpretations of new ordinances, Sanderson said, others came from conflicts with existing laws. 

Commissioners decided in the end to ask the staff to bring one code problem before the commissioners to ponder at each meeting. 

Commissioners also agreed to delay consideration of proposals to create a city-specific density bonus statute at the request of the Wengraf and Zoning Adjustments Board member Rick Judd. 

The delay was sought so the chairs could review the comments on their proposal by city staff, then meet with them before the final document is presented to the commission. 

The commission scheduled a Nov. 14 hearing to consider proposed revisions to the city’s liquor license policies. 

One controversial policy would bar anyone from receiving a license in the city if they had even one past license violation on their record, and another would allow confiscation of licenses of older businesses which had been opened before the existing city liquor laws and which had been closed for at least nine days for any reason. 

The commission also voted unanimously in favor of an application to permit the conversion of six residential units into condominiums at 1821-1831 Highland Place. 

The units were previously tenant-in-common dwellings.