Moratorium on Panoramic Hill Development Goes to Council

By Judith Scherr
Monday June 16, 2008 - 04:57:00 PM

Jerry Wachtal describes the Panoramic Hill area where he lives as “a rare paradise,” where you can get to downtown Berkeley in seven minutes and be at home with “trees, birds and wild animals.”  

It’s an area, however, rife with danger, with narrow substandard roads, inadequate water to fight fires, an inadequate sewer system, a nearby earthquake fault and large projects planned by UC Berkeley which could impact the area’s scant water and sewer resources. 

Because these issues must be addressed, according to Wachtal, who heads up the Panoramic Hill Neighborhood Association, the neighborhood group has worked with city planners and Councilmember Gordon Wozniak to propose a temporary moratorium on development in the area. The City Council will address the issue at its meeting Tuesday. The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. 

In addition to the Panoramic HIl moratorium, the council will address instituting a moratorium on new cell phone antennas, tax measures to place before the voters in November, an updated budget and more. 

The proposed urgency ordinance, which would halt new development for 45 days in the Panoramic Hills area, including additions of more than 200 square feet, needs the approval of eight of the nine councilmembers. At the end of 45 days, the council could extend the moratorium for two years. 

“The moratorium would allow time for staff to propose a strategy for undertaking necessary long-range planning for Panoramic Hill and actions the council can approve in the near term to improve the safety of Hill residents,” says the staff report, written by Planning Director Dan Marks. 

During a contentious period in the recent past, in which the developer of a property at 161 Panoramic Way squared off with neighboring residents, there were allegations of neighborhood NIMBYism from the developers. 

But Wachtal said that’s not so. Pointing to a property under development near the controversial property, Wachtal told the Planet that the association does not object to rational development in the area. 

The neighborhood objected to developing 161 Panoramic Way—eventually approved by the City Council with a number of conditions—because the lot is “so steep we believe it can’t be built safely” and is situated where the road narrows between hair-pin turns, Wachtal said. 

(The property at 161 Panoramic Way is not included in the moratorium.) 

Also before the council on Tuesday will be: 

o A six-month moratorium on new cell phone antennas. The proposed ordinance will require eight of the nine councilmembers’ approval. 

• The question of which, if any, ballot measures to place before the voters in November. Proposed are: a fire and disaster preparedness tax, a library expansion and seismic safety bond and an advisory measure asking the school district not to demolish the warm pool until a new warm pool can be built. 

• A request to city staff to report on what needs to happen-perhaps a charter change or a policy change-to allow local businesses to get preferences for city purchases and “not corporate mega-stores,” Councilmember Dona Spring told the Planet. Spring is sponsoring the item. 

• An increase on the maximum income for 1-2 person households to qualify for the very low income exemption from specified local taxes and fees from $33,500 to $34,450.