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File #: 2014-788   
Type: Regular Agenda Item
Body: Planning Board
On agenda: 8/25/2014
Title: City of Alameda Zoning Amendment Regarding Commercial Recreational Uses and other miscellaneous amendments. The Planning Board will hold a public hearing to consider a number of potential zoning amendments regarding commercial recreational uses, arcades, ground floor office uses, and the definition of residential use. The proposed amendments are categorically exempt from further environmental review pursuant to State CEQA Guidelines 15305 Minor Alterations to Land Use Limitations
Attachments: 1. Exhibit 1 - Draft Ordinance
Title
 
City of Alameda Zoning Amendment Regarding Commercial Recreational Uses and other miscellaneous amendments.  The Planning Board will hold a public hearing to consider a number of potential zoning amendments regarding commercial recreational uses, arcades, ground floor office uses, and the definition of residential use.  The proposed amendments are categorically exempt from further environmental review pursuant to State CEQA Guidelines 15305 Minor Alterations to Land Use Limitations  
 
 
Body
 
CITY OF ALAMEDA
      Memorandum
 
To:             Honorable President and
             Members of the Planning Board
      
From:         Andrew Thomas
                       City Planner
                  
Date:               August 25, 2014
 
Re:      City of Alameda Zoning Amendment Regarding Commercial Recreational Uses and other miscellaneous amendments.  The Planning Board will hold a public hearing to consider a number of potential zoning amendments regarding commercial recreational uses, arcades, ground floor office uses, and the definition of residential use.  The proposed amendments are categorically exempt from further environmental review pursuant to State CEQA Guidelines 15305 Minor Alterations to Land Use Limitations  
 
BACKGROUND
 
The City of Alameda Zoning Ordinance establishes land use regulations and development standards for the use of land.  The purpose of these regulations is to protect the public health, safety and general welfare and ensure that public and private actions related to the use and development of land in Alameda is consistent with community expectations and priorities as articulated in the General Plan.   
 
In 2008, the Planning Board and City Council held a series of public hearings to update General Plan policies related to retail and commercial development.  Over the last five years, staff has identified a number of specific zoning regulations that staff believes are inconsistent with General Plan policy objectives and public expectations for the use and development of non-residential land.  Those specific zoning provisions and proposed amendments to improve the zoning ordinance are identified in this report.  
 
In addition to the amendments related to economic development, staff has identified a number of minor zoning regulations that are problematic or unnecessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare or to implement a particular General Plan policy.  Those regulations and recommended amendments are also included in this report.
 
The rational and justification for each proposed amendment is described in this report.  The specific language for the text amendment is shown in Exhibit 1, which is the draft ordinance for City Council consideration.  The Planning Board's responsibility is to hold a public hearing and make a recommendation on the draft ordinance to the City Council.  After taking public comment, the Planning Board may recommend approval of all, some, or none of the proposed amendments to the City Council.   
ANALYSIS
 
Commercial Recreation and Entertainment Uses:
 
Commercial recreation and entertainment uses contribute to the vitality and economic health of the City's retail main streets (Park Street and Webster Street), and its commercial centers (such as South Shore Shopping Center) and the future Waterfront Town Center at Alameda Point.  Examples of "commercial recreation" include the bowling alley and indoor miniature golf on Park Street and the Pinball Museum on Webster Street.  In some cases, these uses may include a mix of entertainment facilities.  For example, the bowling alley provides food and pinball machines for its patrons.  In other cases, a restaurant may include some entertainment facilities, such as pinball machines.  
 
These types of uses provide additional reasons for individuals and families to visit the commercial districts and those visits can result in secondary benefits if those visitors also decide to eat at a local restaurant or visit a nearby bookstore or clothing store.  
 
Because these entertainment uses may draw large numbers of visitors, which may result in traffic, circulation, or parking impacts on adjacent uses, or may not be appropriate immediately adjacent to a residential property, these uses are generally permitted only with a conditional use permit and not permitted "by right" in all commercial districts.  By permitting them with a conditional use permit, each application can be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, property owners and tenants within 300 feet can be notified to comment on the proposal, and the proposal can be approved, approved with conditions, or denied, depending on the nature and location of the specific proposal.  For example, the indoor golf facility on Park Street was approved through the use permit process with special conditions to ensure that the use would be compatible with the adjacent retail uses on Park Street.
 
Currently, the Alameda Municipal Code (AMC) establishes conditional use permit requirements for different types of commercial recreation uses.  These use permit regulations have been effective and have allowed the Planning Board, Zoning Administrator, and community to review these uses on a case-by-case basis.
 
Staff believes these same procedures should be used to review commercial uses, such as pinball arcades.  Recently a number of cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, have been reexamining their regulations pertaining to pinball machines and arcades.  In the late 1960's, a number of cities, including Alameda, adopted regulations prohibiting pinball arcades.  These regulations were adopted to protect the local population from illegal gambling activities and other potential public welfare impacts that might be caused by adults or young people playing pinball.  
 
In the early 1970s, the City Council adopted AMC Section 30-10 Game Machines.  At the time, pinball and other arcade machines were considered a potential hazard to the public welfare, and the new regulations were adopted in response to concerns that "game machines" such as pinball machines would lead to illegal gambling, juvenile delinquency, and truancy.  The Game Machine regulations were inserted in the section of the AMC that addresses "adult entertainment activities" (Section 30-9) and "firing ranges" (Section 30-11).  The ordinance prohibits "arcades," which is defined as a use where "game machines" are the primary activity.  The ordinance allows a minimum number of game machines in commercial businesses such as bowling alleys and restaurants, if they are "accessory" to the primary use (e.g., bowling or eating).  Any "accessory use" (e.g. bowling alley) with 15 or more game machines shall not be permitted within 500 feet of a residentially zoned property or 300 feet from any other use with 15 or more game machines.        
 
In the last 30 years, attitudes about pinball machines and other game machines have begun to change, and the City of Alameda has been reasonably successful in finding ways to accommodate these changing attitudes despite Section 30-10.  For example, the Pinball Museum was determined to be a "museum" and not an "arcade" because the patrons pay a fee to enter the facility instead of placing money in each machine.  A similar approach was taken with the commercial recreational use on Park Street that specializes in displaying vintage arcade cabinets.
 
Also in the last 30 years, attitudes and venues for legal and illegal gambling have changed.  The State of California runs a lottery and Native American tribes operate casinos.  Illegal gambling venues have moved to the Internet and other electronic venues, which has created new and different enforcement challenges and strategies.
 
Meanwhile, communities have decided to relax or eliminate their arcade prohibitions.  Staff is proposing that Alameda follow these other cities and amend its ordinance to eliminate the prohibition on arcades.
 
Specifically, staff is recommending the Planning Board recommend to the City Council that it:
 
1.      Delete Section 30-10 Game Machines.  (The text of the full ordinance is attached as Exhibit 1.)
 
2.      Add a new definition to the Definitions section of the Zoning Ordinance (Section 30-2 Definitions) to include "commercial recreation" as follows:
 
"Commercial Recreation includes recreational uses such as skating rinks, bowling alleys, arcades, paintball, children's play land, rock climbing, miniature golf and other similar establishments of an entertainment or amusement nature that are conducted within a building for commercial purposes."
 
3.      Amend the R-6, C-1, C-2, C-C, and North Park Street District Zoning districts to conditionally permit "commercial recreation uses."
 
Ground Floor Office Use: In the Community Commercial (C-C) Zoning District (Park Street and Webster Street), office uses on the ground floor are discouraged.  The purpose of this regulation is to preserve ground floor spaces for retail uses, which support a vital, pedestrian-oriented retail commercial district.  Under the C-C zoning regulations, the City may approve an office use with a Conditional Use Permit (CUP).  As described above, the CUP process entails a public notice, and a public hearing, and provides the City with the discretion to approve, approve with conditions, or deny the application.  The CUP process necessarily requires time and expense for the applicant and the City of Alameda.  
 
In practice, staff believes this regulation works reasonably well by:
 
·      Enabling the City to discourage, and when necessary deny, an office use proposed for a prime ground floor retail space on Park Street or Webster Street.
 
·      Encouraging office uses to locate on Park Street and Webster Street on the second floor, where they are permitted "by right" with no processing time or expense.
 
·      Permitting through the CUP process, when appropriate, ground floor office uses in ground floor spaces, where the office use is located on a side street or other ground floor location, that is not conducive or attractive for ground floor retails space.  For example, the City has approved a number of conditional use permits for ground floor office spaces on the side streets adjacent to Park Street and Webster Street.  These adjacent side streets, like Webb Avenue, Santa Clara Avenue, and others, are zoned C-C and provide locations for ground floor retail, but also space for office uses.  On these side streets, ground floor office can also provide an appropriate "buffer" use between the more active ground floor retail uses on the commercial corridor, and the adjacent residential neighborhoods.
 
Although the process described above is effective, staff and the Park Street Business Association have found that the CUP requirement is unnecessary for the portion of Santa Clara Avenue between Park Street and Broadway.  This three block-long portion of Santa Clara Avenue is zoned C-C, but it is almost entirely occupied by ground floor office uses, and it is a block's walk removed from the Park Street retail corridor.  On this three-block stretch of Santa Clara Avenue, the City routinely approves conditional use permits for ground floor office use.  In these cases, the cost and time of the CUP process for the small businesses and the City seems unnecessary.  From staff's perspective, permitting office use on the ground floor on this three-block stretch of Santa Clara would be consistent with General Plan policies in support of office uses and would not be detrimental to the public health, safety or general welfare.
 
Specifically, staff is recommending the Planning Board recommend to the City Council that it:
1.      Amend Section 30-4.9A C-C, Community Commercial District to permit ground floor office uses on those parcels that have a frontage on Santa Clara Avenue and are located east of Park Street, between Park Street and Broadway.
 
Employee Housing:  In some agricultural communities, housing for migrant and agricultural workers has become a sensitive issue.  Cities with large agricultural uses have attempted to prohibit groups of workers or employees from living together in a house or apartment.  Those communities have drafted ordinances stating that a group of unrelated employees are not a "family" and are therefore not permitted in "single family" or "multi-family" zoning districts.   
 
The State Legislature has found that these prohibitions are not in the best interests of the State of California and has passed regulations that preclude cities from adopting such ordinances.  As part of the Housing Element update process that all cities and counties must conduct per state law, the State Department of Housing and Community Development is requiring cities and counties to modify their definition of "family" in the zoning ordinance to specifically state that the definition of "family" as used in zoning ordinances does not preclude employees living together.
 
Staff is recommending that the definition of "family" in Section 30-2 of the Alameda Zoning Ordinance be amended as follows:
 
Family shall be defined as "One or more persons or employees living together in a dwelling unit, with common access to, and common use of all living, kitchen, and eating areas within the dwelling unit."
 
Adoption of this ordinance amendment will complete one of the City's "programs" in the recently adopted 2015-2023 Housing Element.      
 
 
ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW
 
The proposed zoning code amendments are categorically exempt under California Environmental Quality Act Section 15305 - Minor Amendments to Land Use Limitations.  
 
PUBLIC NOTICE AND COMMENTS
 
Because these Zoning Code amendments are citywide in nature, the public hearing was advertised in the newspaper and posted on the City website.
 
RECOMMENDATION
 
Hold a public hearing and recommend by motion that the City Council adopt the Draft Ordinance amending the Alameda Municipal Code (AMC) regarding commercial recreational uses, arcades, ground floor office uses, and the definition of residential use.  (Exhibit 1).
Respectfully submitted,
 
 
 
Andrew Thomas
City Planner
 
Exhibit:      
1.      Draft Ordinance