Residents of Point Richmond are questioning a decision from the Planning Department that gives a green light for developers to build multi-million dollar projects that residents say violate the city’s rules.
The new General Plan, adopted last year to guide Richmond’s future development, limits building height in medium-density residential neighborhoods to 35 feet, with a maximum of 40 dwelling units per acre.
The plan did not specify how height should be measured until this September when the Planning Department issued an interpretation, specifying that height in areas with multiple buildings shall be measured by averaging the height of all buildings.
Some Point Richmond community representatives say that the interpretation gives a nod to developers to violate the plan.
“I think they are trying to rush through,” said Kathryn Dienst, a Point Richmond resident and a member of the Pt. Neighborhood Council Land Use Committee. “They are short on revenue and they would like to get them developed,” she said.
“The interpretation would allow you to build a 60 foot tower and a 10 foot restaurant and tell you the average height is 35,” said Dienst, who has a degree in urban planning. “Obviously there is a cost advantage for developers to fit in more units on the same piece of land.”
Currently there are two development projects underway in Point Richmond, the Terminal One and the Bottoms/Shea. According to the plan for the latter, the developer wants to build nine buildings on the site: four at 46 feet and the rest at about 26 feet.
Dienst, who lives in the Seacliff neighborhood next to the Bottoms/Shea project, said that the 46-foot tall buildings would block the views from 20 houses in her neighborhood.
No development plan for the Terminal One Project has been submitted, but one of the developers said the height of certain portions of the buildings would certainly be over 35 feet, according to Paul Menzies, CEO of Laconia Development LLC.
The Terminal One site, a 13.8-acre property located to the east of Ferry Point and west of the Richmond Yacht Club, was formerly contaminated then cleaned up. A company set to develop the site abandoned the project after the recession hit in 2008.
The city had trouble finding the right developer until this year, when Terminal One expressed an interest in paying the $10 million dollar purchase price for the property. It is the only company that offered that amount. On December 3, the City Council granted the project exclusive rights to negotiate, which secured the city a $500,000 non-refundable deposit.
Richard Mitchell, Director of Planning and Building with the city, said his agency has not yet granted approval for any project, nor does he have the authority to do so. He said the interpretation is simply to “provide the developer with something to move forward with the design.”
“Everybody is just way ahead of the curve to discuss the height and density issues,” Mitchell said. “Let’s first see what developers are going to propose, and how the community is going to respond, and then figure out what exceptions, if any, needs to be made.”
Apparently many in the Point Richmond community disagree.
In November, the neighborhood’s Land Use Committee Chairman Rod Satre sent an email to the design review board, urging the board and planning commission to follow the guidelines. By failing to do so, Satre wrote, Richmond “is opening itself up to a suit to stop this development.”