In an E-Forum post yesterday, mayor-elect Tom Butt provided more insights into the General Plan Amendment approved by City Council on Tuesday. Below is a repost of the E-Forum and the Contra Costa Times article Butt included in the email.
Although some people thought I sold them out and may never talk to me again, I have to defend this as a good resolution. The people who opposed the project voiced a wide range of objections, including but not limited to:
1. Soils, liquefaction and seismic risk.
2. Too many people and too much traffic.
3. Too much density.
4. Illegal approval process.
5. Precedent-setting changes the General Plan.
6. Impacts views.
Both our city attorney’s opinion and the CEQA review pretty much ruled out the first five as issues. I know that some disagree with this, but only if someone successfully sues will we know if the City erred on any of these.
People spoke of the General Plan as if it were unalterable. The General Plan has been described as the City’s Constitution of Planning, and that is a good comparison, but like the U.S. Constitution, it can be amended and has been many times in the past. Amending the General Plan takes the same complex and lengthy process as adopting it – public hearings, CEQA review and a City Council majority vote. The 35-foot limit in the General Plan is arbitrary – it could just as easily been 25-feet or 45-feet. It simply sets a height that can be built to by right. It can be exceeded with a variance or a General Plan change. Planning a real estate purchase or anything else important in one’s future based on confidence that the General Plan will never be amended or a variance never granted is not a good idea. It is not like the law of gravity.
Similarly, people spoke of concern that this General Plan amendment will somehow establish a precedent or create a new height limit to be applied to the Terminal 1 project and other projects citywide. That is not the case, and that is why I insisted on language being added to the approval resolution that restated and clarified that. Even if this project had not been approved, or even submitted, the applicant for Terminal 1 or any other project would have the right, under state law, to seek a general plan amendment or variance for a change in height limit. And it would have to go through the same process as the Shea project.
All that really leaves as a legitimate issue is the matter of view impact. It is true that some of the Seacliff homes will have less view of the water near the shoreline and in the channel than they have now, but that would have been true with any project even within the 35-foot height limit and within the General Plan’s density range. Some homeowners would have been looking at rooftops and a diminished view in any case, maybe even less view than with this project.
I put on my architect's hat, tried to sort out fact from fiction, and came up with a compromise that focused on the view issue and provided a tradeoff that gave the homeowners above both lowered rooflines and some cash. Shea's design is based on providing partial views for their second tier units (yes, other than the waterfront units they will be looking at rooftops and an obscured water's edge too). Shea will realize a price premium even for those partial views, but I thought the existing homeowners above who will have diminished (but not blocked) views should participate in some of the premium, hence the cash payment.
I thought this was a good compromise, but it appears no one is happy with it, especially Shea. Even supporters of the project criticized me for compelling Shea to drop the height and compensate homeowners.
An E-FORUM subscriber asked me to direct him to the part of the staff report that describes the project’s benefits to Richmond. See pages 26 through 35 of the Resolution certifying the EIR (http://sireweb.ci.richmond.ca.us/sirepub/cache/2/1bmzh0g3cfaxcmp0qwmaei13/42217712172014032412417.PDF).
It has always been my desire for existing residents and builders of infill projects to find common ground and agreement, and that happens more often than not. When that fails, and the City Council is left with a decision, we generally have two choices, just say no, or forge a compromise that is good for the City of Richmond but may not please anyone. When a builder refuses to compromise, I have said no more than once. But in this case, the builder blinked, and I supported the compromise, as did the majority of the City Council.
Contra Costa Times: Point Richmond: Controversial condos approved by divided council
RICHMOND -- A divided council greenlighted a towering waterfront luxury condo project in Point Richmond over objections of residents but did wrest $350,000 from the developer to compensate the seven residents whose views will be most affected by the new buildings.
Dozens of residents, attorneys and developers pleaded their cases to the council deep into the night Tuesday. Residents of the Seacliff housing community in Point Richmond urged the council to reject the Shea Homes project, arguing that the developer and city staff bullied lower review commissions into approving a project that includes four buildings that exceed the city's General Plan height limits and obstruct their valuable views of the bay.
Representatives from Shea Homes argued that the project would be an economic benefit for the city and constituted a marvel of beautiful planning that minimizes impacts on current residents' views. City staff said that providing an exception to a project exceeding the city's 35-foot height limit would set no precedent.
The council sided with the developer by a 4-2 vote, with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles dissenting. The final plan was a compromise brokered by Councilman Tom Butt that shaves about three-and-a-half feet off the project's maximum height and garnered $350,000 in compensation to residents whose views will be altered.
"I probably lost a lot of friends and supporters over this, but I think I did the right thing for Richmond," said Butt, who will be sworn in as mayor next month.
The project is slated for the Bottoms property, a 25-acre site where Shea Homes wants to build a 60-unit residential development of five two-story buildings along the shoreline, with another four buildings four stories tall inland. When finished, about 170 residents would live there. Shea estimates the project will result in about $2.5 million in fees to the city and will generate more than $300,000 annually for the city's General Fund.
The height of the tallest buildings will be about 43 feet, eight feet taller than the city's General Plan height limit.
More than a dozen residents spoke in opposition to the project, arguing that waiving the height limits sets a troubling precedent, that the neighborhood is ill-equipped for added population and that panoramic views from nearby homes and trails would be needlessly marred.
They also accused city staff of pushing lower review bodies to approve the project while steering them away from alternatives. An attorney for the residents called the project "fatally flawed" and Councilman Jim Rogers predicted "there will be a lawsuit."
"As residents, we assume the character of our neighborhood will remain as described by the General Plan," said Margaret Jordan, president of Point Richmond Neighborhood Council. "These residents were assured the General Plan limited future development to 35 feet. If this can happen to these residents, none of us can be assured the rules won't be arbitrarily changed."
Beckles took to Facebook after the meeting to express her displeasure.
"I am so disappointed in three of my colleagues last night," Beckles wrote. "The very people who worked hard to get them elected were disregarded in their vote in favor of a developer."
Butt characterized the project as a shot in the arm for the city's economy, which he said continues to lag behind others in the Bay Area, and said he did his best to broker a compromise. The project could begin construction this year.
"The fact is that any development on the site, even at 35 feet, would result in people above looking at rooftops and losing some or all of their view of the water at the shoreline," Butt wrote in an email Wednesday. "I put on my architect's hat, tried to sort out fact from fiction and came up with a compromise that focused on the view issue and provided a trade-off that gave the homeowners above both lowered rooflines and some cash."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/sfbaynewsrogers.