Public Comment

Panoramic Hill Moratorium Costly to Land Owners

By David Gilley
Thursday July 24, 2008 - 12:28:00 PM

I am writing regarding our developable legal lot at 2 Panoramic Place, Panoramic Hill, Berkeley. We understand that the Berkeley City Council may enact a residential development moratorium in the Panoramic Hill Area that targets our property. 

I must bring to your attention that if this moratorium is enacted, it will have an extremely negative impact on my family. A moratorium of this nature would fall very, very heavily on our shoulders and, as examined in paragraphs below, will not solve the important issues facing residents in this area of Berkeley. If this moratorium is enacted, all legal lot owners would essentially have this major property asset frozen for up to two years. We would not be able to freely use, sell or even refinance our property under the cloud of a moratorium. Our specific lot must be refinanced or sold in the next year and a half. If this moratorium were enacted, we would not be able to refinance or even sell our property and will surely lose this major asset. We would therefore suffer very negative financial consequences as a direct result of this proposed moratorium.  

Imagine this happening to your family. 

We ask that the city please consider the following: 

1) A moratorium on the development of a handful of legal lots in this area will not solve the infrastructure issues that have been facing this area of Berkeley for decades. 

From the City of Berkeley's own account, there are currently around 215 developed Berkeley properties (probably more) and 12 undeveloped legal lots (probably fewer, because a good proportion of these lots are open spaces adjacent to existing homes that will never be developed) on the Berkeley side of Panoramic Hill. Assuming that there are indeed 12 developable lots, if all of these legal lots were developed tomorrow, that would be less than a 6 percent increase in infrastructure usage (sewer, fire access, etc.). Actually, the maximum usage increase if every single legal lot were developed tomorrow for single-family residential use would be considerably less than 6 percent, taking into consideration two important factors: 

• The current ES-R zoning restriction greatly limits the size of any new home built, while there was little or no building size limitation when most existing homes in this area were built. 

• Many existing homeowners are currently ignoring area zoning ordinances with illegal nonconforming multifamily dwellings and/or illegal rooming houses. Preventing or delaying development of this very small number of legal lots in this area would: 

• Cause major financial devastation for these families. 

• Not significantly address the important issues facing residents in this area. 

• Prevent resolution and improvement of certain current infrastructure and fire safety problems facing residents in this area (e.g. fire access, see below). 

2) Fire access issues would in fact be improved by the development of specific legal lots. Therefore, this moratorium would have the effect of making this area of Berkeley less safe. 

In regard to the serious issue of fire prevention access in this area, we and other families have proposed and been granted approval by the Berkeley Fire Department permission to improve fire access as a condition for development of our homes. In our specific case, we would improve, at our own expense, a portion of the Jordan Fire Trail (due east of our lot) as a requirement for residential development of our property and to fulfill fire access issues. Improvement of this portion of the Jordan Fire Trail would not only improve fire truck access to our property, but would also enhance fire access to other residents on Panoramic Hill. In fact, our property is the first reached by the Jordan Fire Trail, therefore, our property is one of the most fire accessible properties on Panoramic Hill. 

We propose that, as a requirement for development of these few remaining legal lots, owners be required to improve fire access in some significant manner to gain building permits. As these few remaining legal lots are developed, all residents on Panoramic Hill would benefit by increased fire prevention access. Therefore, a moratorium preventing development of these legal lots will actually prevent some resolution of these important fire prevention access issues by not permitting improvements of the current threat that Panoramic Hill residents face. 

3) Sewer upgrade issues should be the responsibility of all property owners in this area. 

Sewer improvement has been a long-standing issue in this area and should be addressed by all parties. I think all would agree that this issue should not fall on the shoulders and be the responsibility of only a very few property owners who are in the process of developing single-family homes in this area. Preventing development of these few remaining legal lots will not address this problem. We have paid our taxes on this property and we think it only fair that all residents be responsible for such basic and essential city infrastructure improvements. We would hope that the city would work out a reasonable solution to this issue as soon as possible, and not place this burden on a few families by preventing these families from freely using their property. I am confident that many solutions exist to significantly address these issues facing this area of Berkeley. We offer one solution below. 

4) Enforce current zoning restrictions in this area to alleviate infrastructure burdens, as other Bay Area cities have so successfully done. 

I have recently been informed by the Berkeley city planning office that a significant number of Panoramic Hill area residents are abusing current zoning ordinances, such as harboring illegal nonconforming multifamily dwellings or illegal rooming houses. Enforcing current zoning rules and regulation is an addressable solution that would have a major impact in addressing many issues facing this area. If Berkeley would simply enforce current zoning restrictions (as other cities have successfully done, such as San Francisco), there would be no need to prevent a few families from freely and legally using their property. 

5) The City of Berkeley should examine each property individually regarding possible development. 

We understand that other lots in this area may or may not have unique issues related to development. Our lot is on a relatively gentle sloop, would not block Bay views of adjacent homes, and is the first property reached by the Jordan Fire Trail. Therefore, our property is arguably one of the most fire accessible properties on Panoramic Hill. Our lot is also at the dead end of Panoramic Place. Therefore, staging of building materials and other burdens for residential site development would be greatly reduced or nonexistent to current residents.  Recently, a prospective buyer of our property was discouraged (we hope only temporarily) from purchasing our property once a Berkeley city planning official reported the potential of a residential development moratorium in the Panoramic Hill area. 

To rectify this situation, we ask that we be granted a written exemption from this moratorium by the city so that we can freely use our property. This action by the city would justly restore our basic property rights. 

  There certainly are fundamental city infrastructure issues in this area of Berkeley that have needed attention for quite some time--possibly decades. However, it is grossly unfair that a very, very small percentage of families who own legal, developable lots would somehow be entirely responsible for addressing these improvement issues. We strongly suspect that a small handful of current homeowners on Panoramic Hill are actually using these very addressable issues as a smoke screen issue to prevent individual families from freely using their property under current zoning regulations. If certain residents want to secure open space in this area, they or the City of Berkeley should make reasonable offers to purchase these properties. We ask that you not let a few highly vocal individuals hamper this process of addressing these important issues that face this area of Berkeley.  

Again, this moratorium will not address these important issues facing Panoramic Hill, and, in certain cases, such as fire access, will actually prevent resolution. We offer two major solutions that will have a significant impact on these important issues facing this area: 

1. Require fire access improvements as a condition of granting building permits on existing developable legal lots, and 

2. Enforce existing zoning restrictions already on the books. 



David Gilley and his family own a developable lot at 2 Panoramic Place.