Saturday, September 15, 2007

Council deadlocks on development ordinance

Fremont City Council at its Oct. 2 meeting is expected to discuss ideas for development use on lands within a half-mile of the future Warm Springs Bay Area Rapid Transit station.

City council voted 3-2 Tuesday to adopt a temporary ordinance to require zoning administrator permits for current, permitted land development within Fremont's Warm Springs Specific Plan, as well as retain conditional use permits for conditionally permitted uses in the plan.

However, state law requires a 4/5 vote approval on an interim emergency ordinance.

Ultimately, the ordinance would require that all developments in the plan meet transit-oriented development goals while the area is studied.

Council members Steve Cho and Bill Harrison dissented.

Jeff Schwob, Fremont planning director, said staff received an increasing number of inquiries and applications regarding development within a half-mile of the future Warm Springs BART station.

Many of the applications, he said, are for low-density buildings and uses with low employment potential.

He added that city staff believed any approval of such developments, such as mini storage facilities or parking lots, could hinder the city's long-term goal for the future station area.

Low density buildings and uses would provide low ridership numbers for any potential BART station in the area, as well as hinder the chances of receiving funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for the station, staff reports indicate.

Schwob said the purpose of the "emergency ordinance" was to pause development in the area while staff decided what the rules and regulations for development in the area would be.

But some Fremont businesses and landowners say the ordinance was an attempt to prevent them from building.

Paul Kosachenko, a representative of Brandmoor Co., urged the council not to approve the ordinance.

"From our view, what's the urgency? The fact that a few people asked about a specific piece of land? It seems odd that all of a sudden there is a sense of urgency when the city has had the last 16 years to do something," he said.

In 1991, the city established a special study area around the future BART station as part of the Fremont General Plan.

The city's 1991 general plan called for development of a specific plan for the area, which created a boundary of property within half a miles of the station.

This boundary was to be consistent with established transit-oriented development principles, city reports state.

David Beretta, Brandmoor Co. president, said the ordinance was not fair to developers.

"We believe this ordinance is a reaction to the submittal of several of our proposals," he said. "Our developments won't have any affect on the surrounding areas."

Beretta said many of his neighbors, such as a Walgreens, have been able to develop projects consistent current zoning, and the city approved them.

He added the city's fears about losing funding for any future BART station have been exaggerated.

Beretta said he spoke with BART representative Tom Blalock, who claimed the city should not fear losing funding, as a station in Warm Springs won't be fully realized until at least 2015.

Beretta added Blalock reported that any low-density development would not have an affect on the area.

Councilwoman Anu Natarajan said the city should not be forcing developers to follow transit-oriented development when there is no BART station in the area.

"I think this is a classic case of Catch-22, or which came first, the chicken or the egg," Natarajan said. "We wouldn't be talking about this if BART were already here."

Natarajan and Vice Mayor Bob Wieckowski suggested the ordinance be approved with the condition that city staff not develop an over-elaborate process of approving what can and cannot be proposed for the lands.

Additionally, the council members asked that condominiums be limited, and that a tiered approach to development be put in place. For example, developments with high-density occupancy could be proposed for lands within a quarter-mile of the future station, and lower-density developments be proposed for the next quarter-mile.

Councilmen Cho and Harrison disagreed with the ordinance, stating they weren't sure such a solution was warranted.

"This has been going on since 1991, and the urgency of it coming before us today I'm not sure it lends itself to an immediate response," Cho said. "We're placing all of our cards on the fact that BART's going to be there, and our best guess for that is that it won't be until 2015. Looking at that, I think 2020 is probably more realistic."

While Mayor Bob Wasserman voted in favor of a temporary ordinance, he said this was not the best way to find interim uses for the land while the city waits for a BART station.

"I think this is a very difficult issue and I don't have any doubt that eventually we will have BART there," he said. "We'll have to have the type of developments there that staff recommends, and I think the owners should be aware of that.

"What happens in the interim? I have difficulty requiring owners to freeze their land while the city waits for something to happen," he added.

Following the council's split vote, Vice Mayor Wieckowski suggested bringing the item back to council on Oct. 2, which the rest of the panel agreed to.

If the ordinance had been approved, it would have taken effect immediately for 45 days, city reports indicate.

The ordinance will most likely be extended for an additional period to allow time for preparing final zoning amendments and environmental documentation. Interim ordinances cannot be extended beyond two years from their initial adoption dates, city reports state.

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