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Los Altos Planning Commission recommends rezoning of parks and open-space lands

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Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Grant Park, popular with kids and dogs alike, is one of seven parcels the city could redesignate from Single Family Residential to Public Community Facilities if the Los Altos City Council takes the recommendation of the Planning Commission.

Los Altos Planning Commission members voted unanimously Oct. 3 to recommend a rezoning of seven city-owned properties from residential to parks and open space.

Pending city council approval, the long-anticipated decision changes the official designations in the Los Altos General Plan from R1-10 (Single-Family Residential) to PCF (Public Community Facilities). The decision impacts Grant and Shoup parks, Redwood Grove and parcels along Fallen Leaf Lane, Springer Road and Paco Drive.

The difference between parks and open space, according to Community Development Director Jon Biggs, depends on the perceived degree of use. For example, Grant Park would now be listed as a “park,” while the Fallen Leaf parcel, used as a bike lane, would be “open space.”

For varied reasons, the properties had been designated residential – some for as long as 63 years – despite none ever being used for the purpose of housing, said city assistant planner Eliana Hassan.

Three Los Altos residents submitted letters on the matter, and two others commented during the meeting. While some appreciated city staff’s correction of the parcels’ designations, concerns remained.

Resident Cheryl Reicker took issue with the reference to “bike trail” in the city staff report when referring to the parcel near Fallen Leaf Lane. Reicker, who lives nearby, reminded the commission of the “significant controversy” that arose a few years ago when Fallen Leaf was considered for a section of the Stevens Creek Trail.

Fallen Leaf Lane resident Martin Chian echoed Reicker’s sentiment.

“I take my kids on the bike path across the creek every single day to West Valley (Elementary School),” Chian said, noting he attended the meeting at which the Stevens Creek Trail possibility was discussed. “The way it functions now is, there’s not a huge number of people that cross over, it’s a peaceful area. … My concern is if you change it to a PCF designation that there will be a proposal down the line of turning it into … a wider bike path.”

Commissioner Sally Meadows asked Biggs whether he was comfortable with the language in the rezoning amendments. Biggs said he was, and added that he knew of no plans for a potential bike path in the future.

Beyond future use, Commissioner Ronit Bodner clarified that changing the Fallen Leaf parcel designation to PCF would not change the current, minimal use of the bike path but would eliminate the possibility of a single-family home being built and closing the parcel off to the public. If anything, she said, it would now be better protected from a change in use.

A change in perspective

In a strange turn of events, public notification of the proposed rezoning alerted a resident on Paco Drive, Jan Rollinger, who relayed that her gardeners have been maintaining the city parcel on her street weekly for approximately 40 years.

“My neighbors and I will expect this parcel to be maintained weekly, as it is done now. … It will be simpler not to rezone that parcel,” Rollinger wrote to the commission.

Commissioner Phoebe Bressack originally agreed, worrying that rezoning the roadside open space presented an opportunity for a public eyesore at an intersection heavily traveled each day due to the city’s “lack of funds and ability to maintain it.” Bressack also said it was a slap in the face to Rollinger and her gardeners, who had taken care of the parcel in good faith for four decades.

Meadows swayed Bressack, however, by offering the perspective that the only change is that the homeowners are now aware of the land’s rightful owner. 

“That horse is out of the barn now,” Meadows said with a chuckle. “So thank them and bless them for the job they’ve been doing.”

Last week’s discussion was initiated by a Los Altos City Council appeal to city staff to review why the existing land-use zoning maps contained seemingly inappropriate designations.

No date was mentioned for when the council will review the proposed amendments to the General Plan maps.

For more information on which parcels are affected, visit bit.ly/2LMT20D.

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