What to Expect at the Planning Commission Meeting

Members of the public will discuss the ordinance from the City Council to lower height limits for the heart of the downtown’s village.


The planning commission is holding a public hearing on a lower height limit in the downtown core Thursday night.  

Mayor Val Carpenter and Councilmember Ron Packard discussed the change to new commercial retail sales (CRS) buildings on Main and State streets at the May 8 City Council meeting.

What is considered the CRS district consists primarily of Main and State streets, where the current height limit for buildings is 30 feet.

“I am absolutely opposed to three-story buildings in the core of our downtown,” Packard told the council at the May 8 meeting. “I’ve supported, and was heavily involved, in opening Pandora’s box in the outside areas," he said, refrring to raising height limits outside the quaint village center.

"But when it comes to the core, I am absolutely opposed to three-story buildings, and I want no question about that.”

The proposed amendments were made “in order to better set developer expectations, minimize community disagreements, avoid possible accusations of favoritism, and limit exceptions to important zoning ordinances,” according to the June 21 memorandum.

One amendment explains how building height is measured. Sloped roofs are measured to the midpoint of the roof whereas flat roofs are measured to the interior ceiling.

The City Council is trying to clarify the language of the current ordinance to "correct an oddity" that has resulted in many flat-roofed buildings, observed Assistant City Manager James Walgren, the staff member who prepared the memorandum on the proposal. Building height for flat-roofed buildings in the current ordinance is measured from the interior ceiling.

Some issues arise from the interior ceiling measurement.

“This is odd in that an interior false ceiling has little relationship to how a building is viewed from the exterior,” Walgren wrote. “And given that it is a more liberal height measurement, it has resulted in predominantly flat roofed new commercial buildings.”

The most recent project that has tested the current height limit and the language in the ordinance is that of Ted and Jerry Sorenson at 40 Main St. The proposal featured a three-story building standing at 35 feet, 5 feet higher than the current limit, and requiring an exception. The proposal was turned down at the last City Council meeting.

Some members of the public who testified in favor of the Sorenson project had contended the proposed building had encountered difficulties in getting approvals over the past four years beacause it was located next Council member Ron Packard's building. Packard had recused himself from discussion and voting on the project, and Council member Megan Satterlee had flatly rejected contentions that Packard had had undue influence on fellow council members, noting the number of exceptions from the ordinance that the developers were asking for. 

When the amendments to the height limits were brought up at the May meeting, three members of the public including major property owners were opposed to the amendment.

Originally Carpenter suggested a restriction on the buildings to be two stories, but later amended that motion to limit the height instead of the number of stories. The end result with height limits will restrict the buildings to two stories since the first floor must be 12-feet high to accommodate retail use.

After Thursday night's public hearing, the planning commission will vote on the ordinance, which was recommended for approval by the city staff.

The meeting is at 7:30 p.m., at the Los Altos City Hall, 1 N. San Antonio Rd. 


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