Picnic Rock Fence Will Just Replace the Old One, Owners Say

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday July 24, 2008 - 09:54:00 AM

The owners of the Sutcliff Picnic Rock in North Berkeley said a new fence will simply replace the old one at the rock. 

Some members of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission expressed concern last week about fencing the landmarked rock on the 500 block of Santa Rosa Avenue in North Berkeley, but the alterations do not fall under the board’s jurisdiction. 

Usually, alterations to a landmark must 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.  

Katie and Eric Wilson, who have owned the property that contains Picnic Rock since 2006, said the fence will conform to the city’s zoning requirements for height limits, including those pertaining to height on a slope. 

“Picnic Rock has been fenced for many years,” Katie Wilson told the Planet. “Front fencing was already in place when we moved to the neighborhood 22 years ago, and the rear fencing is likely nearing 20 years of age. The new ornamental iron fence, with its open character, will enhance viewing of the rock, and provide needed durability and security.” 

The couple added they had argued in favor of landmarking the rock in 1990 when the commission voted to declare it a “site of merit,” and that they had been motivated to purchase it 16 years later by a desire to preserve it as an open space and eliminate the recurring proposals to build a house on the site. 

“Neighborhood efforts over the years had achieved temporary preservation, but we sought a lasting resolution,” Katie said. 

The couple has opened the rock to numerous local tours, especially those led by the Berkeley Historical Society, over the past two years, she said. 

“However, Picnic Rock is private property and is not open to the general public,” she said, disputing the description by some community members that it was a “popular rock-climbing site for children.” 

“It is a sad fact of modern life that children no longer run through neighborhoods and backyards unencumbered by fences and property lines,” she said.