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Planning Commission Defies CPAC

In yet another totally predictable outcome, on January 13, 2020, the County Planning Commission did as it was told by the Planning Department staff and ignored the Arden Arcade CPAC’s recommendation to not approve amendments to the Gramercy Court nursing home’s conditional use permit. Normally, the Commission’s ruling would be final, subject to appeal ($$$) to the Board of Supervisors. So, perhaps to make it look like they sort-of cared about the public opinions that led the CPAC to not recommend approval, the Commission decided to just push the item up to the Supervisors with a recommendation to approve.

The Gramercy Court use permit item has been brewing for a long time. As detailed in our blog almost 2 years ago, neighborhood residents had been having big-time problems with the use of pedestrian gates at the facility to spill employee parking out into the neighborhood. The gates were originally intended to enable nearby residents to walk from one side of the facility to the other, a particular concern for parents with school-age children back when Cottage School was an actual neighborhood school (it’s a district-wide Montessori school now) and before the County miraculously found money (not long after the nursing home was first approved) to build sidewalks along the north side of Cottage from what is now Gramercy Drive to Landon Lane. The project had caused other problems, too — the unmaintained perimeter wood fence had deteriorated (as predicted by objecting neighbors back in the day) and some fence sections had fallen down onto neighboring properties, ambulances, heavy equipment back-up noises and lights were disturbing residents, and the facility itself had become an eyesore. Still, the parking problems had grown to major proportions, with perhaps the most troublesome aspect being significant constriction of the roadway at Park Estates and El Prado.

So it was something of a relief when a new owner bought the place and started to spruce it up (paint, some fence panels replaced, A/C repairs, etc.). The new owner was also reasonably gracious about understanding the need to keep employees from parking in the neighborhood, and - after hearing from the neighborhood - even asked that the use permit be amended to state that the gates were for emergency egress only. But the new owners also wanted more nursing home beds. They thus also asked the County to change the use permit so 30 more beds could be added, thereby enabling the place to conform to the state’s authority for more beds than the County had ever authorized.

More beds meant more parking was needed. The new owners had cut a deal to fulfill some of their parking requirements at a nearby office building complex but wanted to include 24 public street curbside parking spaces on Gramercy Drive to meet the requirement. “Ixnay” said the CPAC - you can’t use public spaces for private purposes. After the Planning Department staff used some sleight-of-hand to benefit the applicant - and without involving the impacted neighborhood - the matter finally went to the Planning Commission. Sure, close the gates, they said. But they added that the parking requirement would be met by upping on-site motorcycle and bicycle parking (!) such that the on-public-street parking would be reduced to 12 spaces and “designated” for visitors. That’s obviously disingenuous, given that 1) it is improbable that the employees or delivery people will get there via motorcycle or bicycle, 2) visitors to a nursing home are highly unlikely to settle for parking hundreds of feet away from the front door and 3) there is no way to enforce visitor-only parking on a public street that is typically full of parked cars. Further, there was no consideration given to the fate of La Mesa Way, a cul de sac residential street close to the nursing home that’s likely to be exploited for nursing home parking. And that’s what the public commenters said. Not that their comments mattered to the Supervisors’ toadies on the Commission (the 5 of them are each appointed by a Supervisor). Paying no attention to the CPAC recommendation, to the public comments made to the CPAC 6 months ago, or to the public testimony they received on 1/13/2020, the Commission agreed to everything the applicant wanted and had achieved with the help of Planning staff.

The next step will be action by the Board of Supervisors. The date hasn’t been set, but the die has certainly been cast. In fact, the applicant gave a bit of a hint in remarks to the Planning Commission: if the extra beds aren’t approved then the gates will remain unlocked and the neighborhood will continue to suffer. That’s blackmail, of course. The system is supposed to further the public interest. It isn’t supposed to be rigged for developers to be the deciders. But that’s how the County rolls. Isn’t that special?

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Gramercy Court wants to expand, but can’t unless it gets special permission to claim curbside parking on Gramercy Drive - a public street - for the exclusive use of its visitors. The CPAC rejected the request. But the County Planning Commission saw no problem with it, even though it is a long walk from those spaces to the actual entrance of the nursing home (which is way in the distance in this photo).
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