EL CERRITO -- A group of about 25 residents is backing an appeal of an April 16 planning commission decision to approve a condominium development on the site of a historic home at 1715 Elm St.
The appeal means that the City Council will review and make a final ruling on the Planning Commission's decision granting the project a use permit.
The half-acre property, within a short walk of the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station, is the site of the 110-year-old Rodini house, the third-oldest structure in El Cerrito.
Edward Biggs of Albany, who purchased the property in 2003, wants to move the dilapidated house to the rear of the property and renovate it before selling it as a single-family home.
His proposal calls for building a three-story, 14-unit condominium project that will have design elements that will tie the new structure to the home. The building would be next to a tributary of Baxter Creek that runs through the property.
By a 4-2 vote, commissioners overrode criticism of the project, mostly from nearby residents, over concerns about the density of the development, which slightly exceeds zoning limits for the neighborhood. Residents also cited the potential for increasing traffic, aggravating parking problems and casting shade over homes, among other issues.
The group came together immediately following the April 16 hearing to pay the $325 appeal filing fee, securing their right to present their case to the full City Council.
In a letter to the council, project opponent Howdy Goudey, a member of the city's Environmental Quality Committee, wrote that he thinks El Cerrito can do a better job providing transit-accessible high-density housing than the Biggs proposal.
In the letter, Goudey criticized the distance the historic farmhouse and the new condominium structure will be set back from the creek as well as the proposed relocation of the farmhouse.
The plan would allow Biggs to build within 4 to 6 feet of the creek bank rather than the normal limit of 30 feet.
"It is disingenuous to portray this excessive erosion of our creek standard as 'protecting' or 'saving' the creek," Goudey wrote. "It will only diminish the potential to restore this rare natural resource, and it is a serious violation of the strong environmental standards of El Cerrito, as well as higher state authorities regarding the modern stewardship of creeks."
Goudey added that the plan to move the home would "diminish it in the back corner of the lot with excessively tight setbacks, dwarfed under a towering, massive new development.
"(That) is not consistent with respecting the unique historic resource of this home, and the tantalizing hint at El Cerrito's bucolic past that it represents, as it presently stands," he wrote.
As an alternative, Goudey and fellow project opponent Robin Mitchell are proposing that the city swap land that it owns in some other location for the property and use the land for a city park.
Mitchell, who has spearheaded a program for community gardens in El Cerrito, is going further in a written proposal to the council that suggests the property could be turned into an environmental education center and urban farm demonstration project.
"It (could be) open to the community for educational projects on sustainability, energy efficient retrofits, water catchment and alternative energy production," she wrote.
Mitchell said that as a member of the city Parks and Recreation Commission, she recognizes the city doesn't have money to build and operate such a project, but suggested that "a mechanism would need to be established to generate external funds for maintenance and programs."
The council will hear the appeal at an as-yet undetermined meeting on its schedule.