After discussing a slew of proposed changes to how Belmont property owners can remodel their homes, the Planning Commission finalized its recommendation for the council to proceed with the controversial update to the zoning and tree ordinances.
The commission held its third meeting Tuesday on the proposed changes that include removing home size caps, reducing parking requirements and allowing staff to approve smaller home renovations. They also suggested easing the ability for property owners to construct second units and creating objective criteria for single-family home design reviews.
In its final discussion, the commission reviewed the proposed changes to the city’s tree ordinance and agreed with staff that the amendments to how property owners redevelop or remodel their homes wouldn’t have a substantial impact on the environment.
“The vast majority of folks think that what’s being recommended here is to take a good thing and make it better,” said Planning Commission Chair Douglas Kim.
During previous meetings, the commission unanimously supported creating a tiered system for reviewing single-family homes, but differed on how to reduce parking requirements and whether to eliminate a cap on home sizes.
On Tuesday, the commission ultimately passed a resolution that supports amending the city’s stringent zoning ordinances and made various recommendations based on public comments and the commissioners’ feedback.
The commission opted to support efforts to preserve heritage trees and institute fees or require homeowners to replant trees if they remove certain species as part of redevelopment projects.
The Parks and Recreation Department will be responsible for developing a valuation method that may include the tree size, species, location, condition and life expectancy of the tree, according to a city staff report.
Although it will be further refined, a sample schedule ranged from a $1,000 fee to remove tree that is in very good shape and more than 24 inches in diameter four feet from the ground, to a $125 fee for a tree in poor condition that’s between 10 and 18 inches in diameter four feet from the ground.
Protected trees would include heritage trees, oak and redwood species that are 10 inches in diameter or more, city-owned trees as well as large trees that are 24 inches or more, according to a city staff report.
The Parks and Recreation Commission also reviewed the proposal at an April 1 meeting and both commissions agreed they’d prefer the protected tree standard be reduced from 24 inches to preserving trees of smaller diameters, said Senior Planner Damon DiDonato.
Commission Vice Chair Davina Hurt also suggested expanding the list of protected trees while Commissioner Julia Mates said she’s confident the new, long-term planning rules would continue to support a variety of species within Belmont.
A number of people raised concerns that the changes to the city’s zoning ordinances would have an impact on the environment. Community Development Director Carlos de Melo said staff conducted a significant amount of research before drafting the negative declaration.
“In an abundance of caution, the city wanted to do a thorough job. We wanted to evaluate the roughly 17 to 19 environmental factors that are necessary and important to [environmental] review. And we believe that the research and the resulting document is thorough and addresses the issues at hand,” de Melo said.
According to the city’s environmental study, staff determined there would be no, or less than significant impacts on air quality, water quality, soil, noise, recreation, aesthetics and more.
Although members of the public expressed frustration that the proposed changes could ease homeowners’ ability to add second units on their properties, staff noted that per state law, second units are already allowed and cannot be considered as an increase in density.
A positive impact in easing homeowners’ remodels would be that some of the city’s older homes are brought up to modern safety standards and would be more energy efficient as they’d have to comply with updated green building codes, DiDonato said.
Now that the Planning and Parks and Recreation commissions have reviewed the proposed changes drafted by city staff and a council subcommittee comprised of Vice Mayor Eric Reed and Councilman Charles Stone, the proposal will eventually head to a City Council meeting.
Some members of the public were frustrated after being told they were only allotted one opportunity to provide comment during the Planning Commission’s three-meeting review of the proposed changes.
As the Belmont zoning and tree ordinances will be heard by the City Council, the proposed amendments are likely to draw a crowd.
“The zone text amendment process has been an evolution of sorts,” DiDonato said. “There’s been input from the community and there’s been input from the commissions and staff and the City Council subcommittee. And things have evolved.”
For more information visit belmont.gov/city-hall/community-development/planning-and-zoning/zoning-text-amendments.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106