Downtown Precise Plan Focus on Residential, Mixed-Use Development

(Contributed Graphic)
The Orinda City Council viewed proposed high-density projects such as this one on Mt. Diablo Blvd. in Lafayette, while considering proposed changes in Orinda building regulations.

    Contentious Orinda issues concerning density limits, mixed-use and multi-family dwellings, allowable building heights and the number of stories permitted in a building on privately-owned property remained up in the air as the City Council and its Downtown Precise Planning (DPP) Sub-Committee worked through various meetings.
    The next sub-committee meeting, open to the public, will focus on building heights. A date had not been scheduled at press time.
    City Council Members Nick Kosla and Inga Miller, who serve as the Downtown Precise Planning (DPP) Sub-Committee, met with Planning Department staff members Sept. 10 to continue exploring the future of downtown development, with possible waivers to current building height, population density and setback regulations on the agenda. No decisions were made, nor actions taken.
    During its Aug. 18 meeting, the Orinda City Council had considered department staff recommended changes to residential density limits, modifications to allowable building heights and changes to the number of stories permitted in a building.
    Recommendations included allowing privately-owned properties in the downtown commercial and office districts, located on the south and north sides of Hwy. 24, to be developed to include mixed-use and/or residential structures. Another change would see residential density increase from 10 to 30 dwelling units per acre in the Downtown Commercial (Theater) District and from “not allowed” to 25 dwelling units in the downtown office (Village) District. In certain areas, building heights could reach 55 feet, 20 feet higher than the current maximum allowed. These recommendations do not apply to city-owned properties.
    In addition to viewing renditions of mixed-used and high-density dwelling buildings in nearby communities, discussions covered scenarios when incentives are made a part of granting waivers. Public parks or San Pablo Creek access were mentioned as possible incentives. To the council, staff recommended most of the project area maintain a maximum 35’ building height, but allow flexibility for up to 55’ in height “in some areas as an incentive for uses highly-desired by the community.”
    Density bonuses for multi-family units, regulated by the state, are based on the level and number of affordable housing units. A possible concession would allow a lesser setback for more affordable units, according to Planning Director Drummond Buckley.
    Miller asked, “If there is no affordable housing, then there is no density concession, right?” Buckley confirmed. At this juncture, Buckley stated the need for a market/economic analysis for building design standards. “The time is right,” he said for a map showing heights and densities with incentives in the project area.
    According to the city’s website, “The DPP is intended to revitalize downtown and stimulate housing production by potentially increasing allowable residential densities in the Downtown Commercial zoning district and potentially allowing multi-family residential developments in the Downtown Office zoning district. Any changes to the existing densities would be subject to approval by the City Council through adoption of the DPP itself, as well as General Plan and Zoning Amendments.”
    Increases in density, height and number of stories would represent “outer limits” for each category. The Planning Department staff report indicated it is expected “there will be variation in the allowed density and heights in different parts of the project area, depending on site characteristics.”
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