Sat08302014

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Council to vote on zoning changes


Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
Photo Town Crier File Photo

The city recently introduced three zoning amendments pertaining to development in Los Altos.

Developers eyeing future building projects in downtown Los Altos may soon be working under a refined set of rules.

The Los Altos City Council voted 3-2 Oct. 23 in favor of publicly introducing an amendment to the city’s municipal zoning code that lists defined public benefits developers could provide in exchange for building exceptions in the city’s Commercial Retail Sales (CRS) zone. The city’s CRS zone includes Main and State streets, as well as a portion of First Street.

Additional zoning amendments introduced at the council meeting included refined definitions for parapet walls and the way building heights are measured throughout the city. A vote to formally adopt the amendments is expected during the Nov. 13 city council meeting.

Prior to casting his vote, Councilman Ron Packard said the municipal zoning amendments would clear up any areas of “potential false expectations” by developers who seek approval of construction projects not entirely within the city’s regulations.

“It brings greater clarity to developers and to property owners on what’s feasible and what’s not,” he said. “That clarity will avoid accusations of favoritism. It avoids problems. … By clarifying it, it really benefits everyone.”

The changes come on the heels of three public meetings of the city’s re-formed Downtown Zoning Committee to consider and refine those specific sections of the zoning code. The committee, chaired by Mayor Val Carpenter and Councilwoman Megan Satterlee, included downtown business owners, property owners and Planning and Transportation Commission Chairwoman Phoebe Bressack.

All told, the amended zoning code (section 14.48.180) related to public benefits outlines allowable developer exceptions on future projects, including the overall height of a structure, a structure’s first-floor height and on-site parking requirements. Specific language included a provision that calls for the city to consider height exceptions “that support the project’s architectural integrity.”

In exchange for those exceptions, the amendment includes a list of desired public benefits for developers to provide, such as additional parking beyond a project’s minimum requirements, publicly visible plazas and gathering and eating spaces to “enhance the ambiance of downtown.”

“This is a toolbox to get us some of the public benefits that we would like to see in our downtown design plan,” Satterlee said.

In addition, an amendment in section 1.66.230 of the city’s municipal code – related to building height limitations – calls for a change in the way flat roofs are measured. Flat roofs, previously measured to the interior ceiling of a building’s top floor, will instead be measured to the roof deck of a building.

A third zoning amendment calls for roof parapets to be defined as walls or elements projecting up from a building’s roof or roofline for purposes such as screening mechanical equipment. According to the amended code, a roof element with a 60-degree slope or more will be considered a parapet.

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