In Busy Night, Council Tackles Condominium Conversion, Wood Smoke, And Recreation Fees

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Wednesday September 24, 2008 - 03:03:00 PM

It was a busy, eclectic night at Berkeley City Hall Tuesday, with the Berkeley City Council moving forward on a range of issues, including changing the city’s condominium conversion mitigation fees, establishing citizen nuisance wood smoke abatement procedures, and raising recreation fees. 

In addition, the council halted further consideration of blanket deferrals of building permit fees for new construction in the city, while asking staff to come back with recommendations for possible deferral of sewer hookup permit fees. 

The thorniest issue was condominium conversion, where the council considered a complicated staff recommendation for revisions in the amount of fees charged to convert dwellings to condominiums, as well as the process by which those fees are determined.  

The purpose of the condominium conversion fee—set by the Council in 2005 at 12.5 percent of the sale price of the unit to be converted—is both to help the city add back affordable rental housing that was lost in the condominium conversion, as well as to give the city a share in some of the windfall accrued by new condominium owners for the raise in property values caused by the conversion. 

There was general agreement among the council, staff and residents speaking at the meeting that the current conversion fee is probably too high and that the city approval procedures are too complicated. But there was little agreement on how much to charge, or exactly what parts of the procedure to streamline or change. 

In the end, the council agreed to submit for staff consideration several issues suggested by Councilmember Laurie Capitelli, including cutting the conversion mitigation fee to 8 percent and putting aside some of the funds for first-time homeowners assistance. 

City Manager Phil Kamlarz said that staff would bring the new set of recommendations back to the council sometime in October. 


In other action on Tuesday, the Council: 

• Approved on first reading an ordinance setting up a conflict resolution system for residents with complaints about neighbors’ wood smoke. 

Under the new ordinance, direct neighbors within 120 feet of the source of wood smoke who complained of a problem would be allowed to go through a procedure of mediation and binding arbitration and then, if necessary, litigation in Superior Court. 

Staff said it receives between 30 to 40 complaints each year about problems with neighbors’ wood smoke. 

• Raised fees at City of Berkeley camps—including Berkeley Tuolumne, Echo Lake, Cazadero Arts, and Berkeley Day—to pay for a new online camp registration system and increased maintenance costs due to code compliance issues at Echo Lake and Tuolumne.  

Under the new structure, one-week day camp youth camp fees for Berkeley residents would rise from $99 to $135, while daily family camp fees at Tuolomne would rise from $88 to $96 for adults, $60 to $65 for youth 7 to 14, and $45 to $49 for children.  

Staff said recommendations for fee raises for other Berkeley recreation programs will be submitted later this council session.