Landmarks Commission Has No Say Over Fencing In Picnic Rock

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday July 03, 2008 - 04:44:00 PM

Although some members of Berkeley’s Landmarks Preservation Commission expressed concern about fencing the historic Sutcliff Picnic Rock in North Berkeley, there appears little they can do to prevent it. 

Usually, alterations to a landmark have to be approved by the landmarks commission. But city officials informed the commissioners that the proposed alteration in this case, a fence, does not require a permit. 

Fences located adjacent to a property line or without a required setback that are six feet or under do not require planning approval or a building permit from the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board and building code officials. 

Thus, officials said, the alterations fall outside the landmarks commission’s jurisdiction. 

Picnic Rock, owned by Berkeley residents Eric and Katie Wilson, is a popular climbing site for children.  

According to e-mail correspondence between the commissioners and the rock’s neighbors, the owners wanted to build the fence to keep away people, who, they complained, brought litter to the area off the property. 

“This came to my attention because a couple of commissioners wanted to know if erecting a fence on a designated historic site qualified as an alteration that required a landmarks commission review,” Terry Blount, Berkeley landmarks commission secretary, told the Planet in an e-mail. 

The issue was first raised by Berkeley resident Stuart Gold, whose backyard ends at Picnic Rock, at 550 Santa Rosa Ave. 

In an e-mail to landmarks commissioner Carrie Olson, Gold opposed the construction of a six-foot wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the property it is currently located in. 

“This fence will have three- by four-inch verticals with pointed spikes on top and four inch spaces between the verticals,” he said. “Since my kitchen is ten feet below the property line, this will effectively make the fence 16 feet high.” 

Gold added that although the Wilsons complained that they had found several beer cans and soda bottles left behind by visitors to the rock, he never saw people there. 

“In any case, this will significantly change the character of the rock, as well as the ambiance of the property,” he said. 

The city’s zoning allows a six-foot fence on the property line. 

“The height is determined by measuring the vertical distance from the lowest existing grade point within a three-foot radius of any point of the fence, to the highest point of the fence,” Blount said. “The grade point in this case could be the rock itself.” 

Olson called the decision to not include it in the landmarks commission agenda “bad judgment.” 

“Especially since these rocks are really special in North Berkeley,” she said.