News - September 15, 2010

Contentious rezoning request comes back to council

by Renee Batti

The contentious proposal to allow residents to build larger houses on smaller-than-typical lots on Atherton's Parker Avenue is returning to the City Council on Wednesday, Sept. 15.

The issue has divided residents on the small street of 21 single-family residents, with a robust minority of the residents framing the question as a matter of fairness.

The question has gone before the council and Planning Commission numerous times in the last two years, with the commission twice recommending against the change and the council wavering in its decision.

Parker Avenue lots are less than 10,000 square feet, making them atypical of most Atherton lots, which are about one acre. However, Parker Avenue's zoning is R1-A, which allows bigger houses on lots larger than 10,000 square feet, but significantly restricts buildings on smaller lots.

Some Parker Avenue residents have urged the town to either change the R1-A zoning rules to give them more flexibility to build additions and garage space, or to change their street's zoning to R1-B, which is a zoning applied to a small number of Atherton streets, mostly surrounding Town Hall, that have lots smaller than one acre.

A majority of Parker residents oppose a zoning change, as do a number of residents of surrounding streets, who say allowing larger houses on Parker would almost certainly mean that their backyard neighbors would extend their homes from the rear, infringing on their privacy.

On Sept. 15, the council will consider options that include: following the Planning Commission's recommendation against changing Parker Avenue's zoning to R1-B; rezoning Parker Avenue to R1-B; directing staff to come up with options that would retain the zoning designation but make larger houses possible with Planning Commission review and approval, or through a special permitting process; and directing staff to work on creating a new zoning district with rules similar to R1-B zoning but with larger rear-yard setbacks.

Public records resolution

At that meeting, the council also will consider a resolution reaffirming the town's commitment to providing public records to people requesting them.

The town has been besieged since last March with public records act requests — more than 75, according to a staff report. Former finance director John Johns has made about 50 of those requests, the report indicates.

Deputy City Clerk Theresa DellaSanta has spent about 130 hours since March dealing with the requests, according to the report, and the city attorney's office has billed the town for about $19,850 for reviewing the requests and documents sought to ensure that material that should not be public is redacted before the documents are released.

The town has come under fire recently for not complying with requests made under the state's Public Records Act, most notably after a videotaped incident in which a resident and Mr. Johns confronted City Manager Jerry Gruber in Town Hall about records requests that had not been responded to.

Assistant City Manager Eileen Wilkerson said the council is being asked to approve the resolution to let the public know that the town is committed to meeting the requirements of the Public Records Act.

The council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in Atherton Town Hall, at 94 Ashfield Road.


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