December Planning Commission Recap: Sherwin Park Approved, Update To Noise Ordinance, Ocean View Townhomes Study Session

Published On December 20, 2017 | By Christopher Bennett | News & Commentary, Planning & Development

The December 14th Planning Commission meeting saw two study sessions on the agenda. The first was for the Ocean View townhouse development that was previously discussed at the Commission’s January meeting. The second presented results of a noise survey that will help guide a proposed update to the City’s noise ordinance. In addition, the Commission held a Public Hearing on the updated final design for the Sherwin Williams park and outdoor space.

Director’s Report:

  • The City Council approved the Doyle Street Mews project
  • Council approved the installation of flexible bollards on Horton Street between 53rd & 59th street as part of a protected bike lane pilot project
  • A Special Planning Commission Meeting will be held on December 20th to discuss Cannabis Manufacturing Permitting

Study Session: Update to Noise Ordinance

A majority of the night was centered around the proposed update to the City’s noise ordinance. The existing noise ordinance has been in place since 2003, and since then the majority of commercial areas in the City have converted to residential and the population of the City has grown over fifty-four percent. With all of the change, a review and update to the ordinance was warranted.

As way of background, noise in Emeryville is regulated by three different, but related regulations. The first and arguably the most important is the “Noise Ordinance” in Chapter 13 of Title 5 of the Municipal Code, which was at the center of the study session. The noise ordinance regulates noise in general, including construction and events.

The concern with the ordinance is it does not provide objective exterior noise standards for any of the districts; rather, it provides law enforcement the leeway to determine whether noise generated at property lines from which the noise emanating is plainly audible. Since noise generated by sources such as outdoor gatherings, parties and stationary equipment could be perceived differently from person to person depending on their age demographics and the existing ambient noise in their area, the City’s current approach in determining compliance with its noise ordinance has been inconsistent, hence the desire to review and find possible solutions.

The second law that applies to noise is the “Performance Standards” in the Planning Regulations, found in Article 11 of Chapter 5 of Title 9 of the Municipal Code.The performance standards regulate land uses and equipment/activities that produce noise on an ongoing basis (e.g. HVAC systems). The final regulation is the noise element of the General Plan, which covers sitting of new uses within the City. While the planning regulation and noise element of the general plan are not currently being discussed, they could be amended to bring them in line with any updates made to the noise ordinance.

To start the review process and address public concerns regarding noise, the City Council held a study session on February 16, 2016 to consider potential amendments to the noise ordinance and provided direction for a noise study. On July 13, 2017 the City Council approved a contract with Environmental Science Associates (ESA) to conduct a noise study that was presented to the Commission at the meeting.

The survey took noise samples from 10 locations across the City to determine areas that experience the most noise in addition to potential updates the City could make to the ordinance.As discussed in their report, ESA concluded that the major sources of noise continue to be the main thoroughfares around the City including I-80, I-580, Powell and San Pablo Avenue.

In regards to standards the City could adopt, ESA provided three options. The first option would be to create objective standards based on zoning areas. This option uses the zoning districts in the City’s Municipal Code as a zoning area based approach to specifying noise level restrictions. Using noise data collected by ESA, existing hourly noise levels were determined for each zoning district. Using the existing measured hourly noise levels, an exterior noise standard was developed. This method of regulating exterior noise is currently used in the City of Berkeley and City of Oakland noise ordinances.

Advantages of Option 1 are that it would provide quantitative standards that vary based on zoning and existing noise levels. However, the option has drawbacks including the fact that noise levels at some zoning districts can vary dramatically, resulting in less stringent standards for quiet areas. Also, because of the varying noise metrics involved it may be cumbersome for law enforcement to implement.

Option 2 for the Commission to consider was an increase over ambient standards. This methodology is currently employed by the City of San Francisco, and rather than relying on generalized existing noise levels for given zones, this method creates a standard specific to a given receiving property; For example, the noise limits for commercial and industrial properties. This option would provide quantitative standards that are specific to conditions for a given receptor, but again enforcement of the standards would be an issue as existing noise levels with and without the potentially offending noise source in questions must be monitored by the law enforcement.


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In addition to the above, ESA provided the City with a third option, source specific standards, which could be applied in addition to either Option 1 or Option 2 above. An example of restrictions that may be considered under option 3 include:

  1. The only sounds permitted in a given area are music or human speech;
  2. Hours of operation permitted shall be between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m and operation after 10:00 p.m. is permitted only at the location of a public event or affair of general public interest or as otherwise permitted. This option again provides quantitative standards that may be specifically applied to specific sources of sound like amplified sound or crowd gatherings.

After the presentation by ESA, members of the public, especially those from the Watergate community, shared their desire to see noise better regulated in the City. Former Commissioner Joe Lutz, a resident of Watergate, discussed the increased noise and concerns he would like the City to consider:

“Watergate has open air decks that are kept open because we need the access and we also keep our windows open for air circulation…and [noise levels] were not a problem until trader Vic’s decided to have a deck where they have parties and that is where we have had a lot of problems… also Sound intensity [should be considered] as that is what really damages the hearing and can impact the perceived volume.”

Other residents voiced their concern with noise levels of leaf blowers and hope the City will include updated regulations on the noise those can make as well.

Overall the Commission favored having some form of objective standards, but several of the Commissioners voiced their concern over implementation and enforcement of those standards. Commissioner Kang voiced his concern on the implementation and also on the potential privacy issues that may come from equipment that would be used to record the noise levels:

“It seems like the objective standard might be fair to enforce, I can see a lot of problems trying to enforce them…trying to train officers to use equipment that could also be a fourth amendment issue when you are collecting data from residents, business owners what have you.”

Chairman Donaldson echoed those concerns and how objective standards would practically be applied to areas where zoning is mixed:

“I think it’s good to have objective standards and it sounds like something that a police department could work with, but I am really concerned about the fact that our town is such a patchwork of different zoning areas and I am looking at the zoning map and seeing there are mixed use non-residential that have 75 decibel levels daytime and nighttime on the same block without even any street separation from residential high which has levels of 65 decibels, so I am concerned about how that works.”

The next steps include the City Council’s review of the draft noise ordinance Update at a study session on January 16, 2018. The ordinance will then be brought back to the Council for first and second reading. Because the noise ordinance is not part of the Planning Regulations, no Planning Commission recommendation is required. However, if amendments to the Planning Regulations and/or General Plan are required for consistency, they will be brought back to the Planning Commission for a recommendation at a future date.

View the Entire Staff Report
Watch the staff presentation and subsequent commission discussion above at 2:07:00


Study Session: Ocean View Townhomes

The Commission reviewed an update to the Ocean View townhouse development which they discussed at their January, 2017 meeting. As a recap, the Ocean View project proposes to demolish an existing single family home and replace it with a four-unit residential building at 1270 Ocean Avenue.

Area residents commented that the proposed building was too large and out of character with the neighborhood, and that it should be reduced to either two or three residential units. At their January meeting The Commission echoed these comments and also had concerns about parking and driveway, which staff found to be unfeasible. They suggested that the applicant revise the project to better fit in with the existing neighborhood, the Emeryville Design Guidelines, and the North-Hollis Area Urban Design Program.

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!1m18!1m12!1m3!1d3150.593975119351!2d-122.2909503846803!3d37.84639017974646!2m3!1f0!2f0!3f0!3m2!1i1024!2i768!4f13.1!3m3!1m2!1s0x80857e5e1a0c9a8d%3A0xc722a72344bec800!2s1270+Ocean+Ave%2C+Emeryville%2C+CA+94608!5e0!3m2!1sen!2sus!4v1513793346602&w=600&h=450]

With the comments from the community and Commission, the applicant made significant updates, including reducing the number of units from four units to three units and solving the parking issue by relocating it to Peabody Lane. In addition the applicant has incorporated Family-Friendly design details.

While Commissioners Thompson and Banta did have minor suggestions for updating some elements of the third level of the units, in general the updated development plan was favored by the Commission. They appreciated the resolution to the parking issue and the applicants incorporation of the comments from back in January. Commission Keller summed it up:

“I want to congratulate you on a job well done. You really listened to us and the community. I don’t have a problem with mission style [home] I think it fits in almost any city in California… I think how this is now scaled work a lot better and I really appreciate your efforts in the family friendly elements, it was not something you had to do, and I really want to applaud you for making for sale units, we really want to see more for sale units in this community.”

View the Entire Staff Report
Watch the staff presentation and subsequent commission discussion above at 1:24:00


Public Hearing: Sherwin Williams Public Park and Open Space Final Development Plan

The Commission also discussed an update to the Final Development Plan (FDP) for the public park and other public open spaces within the Sherwin Williams Planned Unit Development site.The Planning Commission last discussed this at the October meeting and was generally pleased with the overall design and details, including the programming and diversity of spaces. A majority of the Commission requested that the “sport court” be redesigned as a full basketball court rather than a half court. Other requests from the Commission included an opening in the fence along the railroad tracks so that park users can see the trains passing by, more color variation in the concrete, a greater diversity of plant selection in some of the “districts”, and making the sidewalks along 46th Street as wide as possible.

Taking the City’s comments into consideration, the updated design now includes a regulation-size half basketball court, storage sheds, seating areas in the community garden and more amenities like drinking fountains and garbage cans around the area. While the did try to include a full basketball court, there were some concerns of how it would fit within the larger park structure as it would be pushed right up against the Emeryville Greenway, creating a large pavement area that took away from the overall design and feel of the space.

The developer’s representative, Kevin Ma, also commented on the potential injury risk:

“Having that basketball court next to the Greenway as people are riding their bikes and the ball rolls out because ultimately we don’t think that putting a fence up against that would be very inviting or helpful.”

Commission Keller, along with the other Commissioners appreciated the attempt to include a full court, but also had an issue with having the court next to the Greenway:

“Seeing what we have to work with… and I understand the need and desire for one, and I think what we need to do is I support this half court with the idea that there is nothing we can do with this project, but in the next park that the City develops we look at a full court basketball court.”

Overall the updated design was well received by the Commission with no substantive comments and the plan was approved with minor conditions 6-0 (Donaldson recused).

View the Entire Staff Report
Watch the staff presentation and subsequent commission discussion above 5:50

About The Author

was born and raised in the north bay and now lives on the Emeryville/Oakland border in the Longfellow neighborhood with his wife and two cats (Sherlock and Watson). When he's not writing, Chris works as an attorney who assist engineers and professional consultants navigate their contracts and related business issues.

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