November 13, 2003

Murphy’s Law Re-Visited

Saga of the Sub-Standard Lots
By Fred H. Arm
As most of you know, Anthony Murphy was denied the creation of a new parcel map and a variance that would allow him to build on his five lots on Pacific Avenue. Whether he appeals this matter is of no import at this time. What concerns me is Mr. Murphy’s statement that a sort of wholesale allowance mentality exists by the Planning Department and the Planning Commission for owners to build upon lots that are less than 6,000 sq. feet, as the zoning ordinance requires. After some cursory investigation, I found that much of these assertions are in fact true. Point Richmond is replete with such summary grants to builders to build on sub-standard lots, notwithstanding that the law is clear that they are not permitted.


One particularly flagrant example, are the lots at the end of East Richmond Avenue. There, the owner, Mike O. Mahoney, applied for and received permission to build five houses in a row on his six lots, notwithstanding that each of his lots were way under the statutory minimum size of Richmond’s SFR-2 requirements. It is also worthy to note that he never had a variance hearing, much like the situation at 130 East Scenic that we since rectified. He had a variance granted for setbacks, although not for building on sub-standard lots. If you take a peek at this new construction site, you will see an enormous swath cut into the hillside taking about half the hillside away. It looks much like a quarry excavation that Murphy declared would have been too unstable for his Pacific Avenue construction project. So how did all this come about?
Some of you may recall that infamous legal interpretive letter by the City Attorney’s Office, dated January 28th, 2003, that purported to give landowner’s carte blanche to build on sub-standard lots so long as they were in existence and recorded before January 31, 1949. The Planning Department armed with this explosive missive, now happily permitted applicants to proceed with their permit application without the need for a variance hearing. Apparently, the Mahoney lots and the Chandler lots fell into this time slot and were each granted permits without variances. The Point Richmond Neighborhood Design Review Board apparently let this one slide through without any restrictions.

Some time later, on June 30, 2003, the City Attorney partially reversed its position, indicating that sub division maps or variances should first be obtained. He qualified his reversal by citing broad interpretive language to effect that the Planning Commission can still grant, under the Sub-Division Map Act, essentially what amounts to variances for two or more small-sized lots, as first conceptualized at their creation, by granting a parcel map exception. Or, as the case may be on a single lot, the variance procedure can grant such permits to lot owners “if the it appears that the zoning ordinances deprives the lot owner of privileges afforded other property owners in the immediate vicinity”. They want to justify future variances by citing past variances as authority for the new variances. This absurd notion is much like stating that the sale of hard drugs should be permissible since 100 years ago it was perfectly legal. The bottom line of all this double-speak is that the City seems to favor anyone building on any size lot!

Since a lot owner has only to show at the Planning Commission hearing is that other lot owners have been given variances, why not he or she? Does this sound similar to the childish ranting of a toddler or teenager who demands to be given privileges that his/her friends have? Why not says the City?

Conceivably, the Planning Commission and the Planning Department with their unenthusiastic departure from giving the world away at the Murphy hearing, have seen the error of their ways and have decided to follow the zoning law as they are written. As stated in the City of Richmond’s Municipal Code:
“15.04.015 Interpretation--Purpose and conflict.
A. In interpreting and applying the provisions of this chapter, they shall be held to be the minimum requirements for the promotion of the public health, safety, comfort, convenience and general welfare.”


Although it seems blatantly unfair to single out Mr. Murphy, however, “the buck has to stop someplace”. One can only hope that the recent publicity and opposition of the neighborhoods have ingrained a new sense of responsibility upon the City to follow its own zoning laws and not allow Point Richmond to become wall-to-wall housing such as Daly City.

Posted by fredarm at November 13, 2003 04:09 PM

Thanks Karen,
I appreciate any support. I only recently came across this web site and I'm curious to know how many people actually read this. Any idea ?
Please reply

Posted by: Anthony at November 14, 2003 04:46 PM

Karen, you are misrepresenting the facts about the Water Street bunch. All I can say is you must be one angry little cookie and vindictive as well to change your opinion 180 degrees from wanting to write an article about the Mac Mansions going up in Point Richmond to offering Murphy a piece of your internet real estate.

Posted by: at November 14, 2003 03:56 PM

Why should the buck stop on the OTHER side of Water Street? Right now we're watching the third house rise on two adjacent SFR2 parcels that together aren't 6,000 square feet. I say if that's the way it goes, then build and let build. Singling out Murphy for denial of his plan is hypocritical, and anyone suckered into thinking his plan is extra-specially heinous has been drinking the wrong Koolaid.

Let Murphy build his Lego empire over there on Pacific. The people squawking the loudest weren't concerned about anyone else when they shuffled their plans through the system. If that's the communitarian spirit in Point Richmond, then for goodness' sake let's be consistent and honest about it, and admit we are not our brothers' keeper.

Murphy's plans may be grossly outsized for the plot, but that too is consistent with recent construction efforts.

Murphy, if you want some Internet real estate to make your point, just drop me a note.

Posted by: K. G. Schneider at November 13, 2003 07:02 PM
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