Planners seek to streamline home projects

Planners seek to streamline home projects

Alamedan Staff

Alameda's planners are seeking permission to make changes that they say would make it cheaper and easier for local homeowners to construct improvements.

The Planning Board will consider the proposed changes tonight.

If approved, the new rules would exempt Harbor Bay Isle homeowners who want to make home improvements from the requirement that they submit to the city's design review process, a city staff report says, because they are also subject to strict homeowners association guidelines. Most homeowners who are making seismic repairs to chimneys would also be exempt from the design review process, which city staffers acknowledged is costly.

The proposed changes would also streamline rules for construction of fences, clarify how large an addition triggers the city's requirement that a homeowner provide additional off-street parking and relax the requirements that homeowners seeking additions would need to meet in order to construct driveways on their property.

Planning staffers also want to clarify the rules around another hotly debated topic - the amount of time a design review approval will remain effective before construction commences. The proposed rule would keep one in place for two years, or until a project passes its first city construction inspection.

The proposed rule changes are the latest effort city planners have offered in their quest to simplify the planning process for home improvement projects. Recent efforts have included a redesign of both the city's permitting center and the materials it provides to residents and contractors applying to construct improvement projects, more flexible hours and online services.

The changes come in the wake of years of complaints about the complexity of the city's planning approval processes and 2009 layoffs that halved the city's planning staff, leaving fewer planners in place to handle a fresh surge of both major development projects and home improvement requests.

Separately, the board will consider extending approvals for 182 new homes, roads and open space for the long-stalled Boatworks project, which the city okayed in 2011 after years of battling property owner Francis Collins in court. Collins wants the approvals to remain in place until 2017.

In June, staffers recommended the city reject a proposal to build only 100 market-rate housing units in the first phase of developing the project - leaving the development of 21 affordable units for a second phase - and also, changes to the open space the project would include. Collins' architect, Philip Banta, asked for the additional time to discuss the proposed changes to the project in a June 22 letter to the city; the board has set up a separate committee to aid in the process.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in council chambers on the third floor of City Hall, 2263 Santa Clara Avenue. The meeting will be broadcast on Comcast cable channel 15 and AT&T cable channel 99 and webcast live on the city's website.