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Traffic concerns for proposed Braker Lane development give Zoning Commission pause

Monday, January 7, 2019 by Jack Craver

At the corner of Braker Lane and Dessau Road sits an oddly shaped 0.9-acre parcel of land that has been the subject of at least two heated zoning disputes.

In mid-2016, the owner of 1308 E. Braker Lane, Sinh Tron Le, successfully got the property rezoned from SF-2, which allows standard single-family homes, to MF-2, which typically allows multifamily development of up to 23 units per acre. The owner said that he intended to build condos.

At first, the Northeast Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association wasn’t happy about the proposed change, but was willing to accept it if there was a conditional overlay limiting the property to 11 units and prohibiting the construction of an apartment building (rather than townhouses or row houses). That’s the deal that City Council ultimately approved.

Two and a half years later, there are no condos and Le is asking for another zoning change to allow for commercial uses. Jim Fisher, an agent for Le, said his client planned on building commercial property with two stories of condos on top.

The intended commercial uses, said Fisher, are personal services such as nail salons, barbershops and real estate offices.

City staff supports the zoning change, but the neighborhood association is once again opposed.

The chief concern expressed by Vanessa Matocha, an area resident speaking on behalf of the neighborhood association at a Dec. 18 meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission, is that customers of the future businesses would access the site from May Drive, rather than Braker or Dessau.

The increased traffic on May, which is a neighborhood street without sidewalks or bike lanes, she noted, “would have an adverse effect on the residents” of May Drive and neighboring June Drive.

In another zoning case a half-mile away, involving a 30-acre parcel of undeveloped land on Braker and Wedgewood Drive, Matocha said that neighbors would appreciate some low-impact commercial uses such as office space or dental practices. However, the prospect of increased traffic on May Drive made the idea of commercial use on this property unappealing.

For instance, while a coffee shop “sounds really nice,” she said, “having people come to get coffee at all hours of the day and night when you’re trying to sleep is not beneficial.”

Matocha urged staff to require traffic access onto Braker, rather than May.

City staff, however, said that because the property has less than 200 feet of frontage onto Braker, the city code prohibits vehicle access to such a busy road as long as there is an alternative access point, which in this case is provided by May Drive.

Commissioner Ann Denkler had an idea to resolve the issue: Could the applicant ask the owner of River City Twirl & Dance, a dance studio next door that has access onto Braker, if it could share a joint driveway? The commission unanimously approved postponing action on the case until its next meeting on Jan. 15 in order to give the applicant time to talk with the studio owner.

Unfortunately, it appears that a joint driveway is not in the cards. Heather Chaffin, who is overseeing the case for the Planning and Zoning Department, said in an email that the person who owns the studio property isn’t up for it.

“She is not interested in entering a joint access agreement because she is putting her property on the market,” said Chaffin. “She doesn’t want to encumber the property with anything that could affect the sale.”

At its meeting next week, therefore, the commission will have to decide whether the neighbors’ concerns about traffic should be enough to block new commercial development on the site.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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