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Developing a History of the Alleys
I was also interested in developing a history of the alleys in terms of interactions with the City so that I can be as informed as possible when I approach them to do some work.  Could we plan a meeting ASAP?  My house is under construction and would not be an appropriate place.  Should I email the people who have responded already and see if they want to meet at the Nile thisweekend?   More…

Legal limbo blocks improvements (5 replies)
Some years ago I had a wonderful Alley Cottage designed for a local resident which used the Alley for required parking access - as is has been used for the past 100 years.

The project complied with all planning requirements, except one, said the City Planner…

The City denied the project because they said the Alleys were not recognized as an approved roadway, and therefore they could not allow a car to drive on it, to get to the required parking space. They suggested that the project should be redesigned with a 150 foot long driveway built from Second Street to the back of the property (at the Alley) where the garage was located and yes, the garage would have to be tuned around with the back of it facing the Alley. This, the City felt, was a good solution.

The project was never built, as the owner was not willing to build a driveway, which would have destroyed the character of the existing house. The support offered by the City was destructive and put an end to the owner’s passion and dream.

This irrational, insensitive and anti-historic position the City has in regards to the use of te Alleys has to stop, if visions like yours are to flourish.

We need to do something, any suggestions?

Posted – 09/11/05 9:23am by Lynn R Slater, updated or replied 09/11/05 9:40am

The City is the obstacle. Our plight, as eloquently articulated to me one day by an experienced local, was…”Imagine that we (Nilians) are the historic town of Mendocino but we are governed by Orange County.” The City of Fremont does not even have zoning regulations for 50’ wide lots with alley access. They consider our properties substandard to Fremont’s manifest destiny of suburban sprawl, which is now complete.

I think the year was 1997 when my block took charge and graded and graveled our alley ( which needs to be done again). At the time we actually mentioned to the City’s Public Works Department that this work needed to be done. They emphatically replied, “ Do not tell us, because if you do, we will require asphalt or concrete paving and civil engineering drawings to do the work”. To top it off the City could not actually allow us to do this work because they said we would have to pay a “law firm” $$$$$$$ to prove we had the right to use the alley. We had mud holes, drug problems, trash and general blight: Our alley is clean and safe now.

The point is the City was going to prevent us from “Improving the quality of our life” – so we did it our self.

The City must change it’s attitude toward the alleys.

I propose that we go to the next HARB meeting and request that the Alleys be identified as Historic Resources. This will require the City to commission an historic evaluation of the Alleys, which will determine their significance in defining the character of Niles. The report will conclude that the Alleys are eligible for the State Register of Historic Resources list.

If we accomplish this, the alleys will be protected. We will have declared in a binding, governing manner, that the use of the Alleys should be celebrated and promoted in order to enhance and protect Niles.


Posted – 09/11/05 9:28am by Lynn R Slater

Right Paul, I oversimplified the case, a no-brainer is out of the question in any ongoing relationship between citizen groups and a governing beaurocracy. The "Institutional Memory" is only  binding and contained in official status and legal standings such as you propose establishing. What I meant to convey was just how far along independent action can get you in the meantime, such as the progress you all made in 1997 in the both the physical and attitude realms.
Reading your report I think I will modify another assertion I made, as well:
Niles citizenry is not at the beginning of the learning and experience curve on the alleys, we are some way along in the understanding of what the obstacles are for their respect and proper care, and what steps might be taken next to secure their protection into the future.
There are at least a few cautions and caveats to all this recognition, of course. Once the alleys are officially "on the radar", they will be subject to a set of guidelines and standards that may or may not be, but always can be, enforced, over time.  The folks entrusted to draft the language and make the maps to preserve and protect "the character" of Iron Horse Lane and Victory Lane (and these lanes have very different personalities, histories, and destinies, as you know), these folks may find that less micromanaging is more productive in the long run. After all, the creative forces which have shaped the alley environment up until recently has been conspicuously free of "guidelines"!  It should be considered that alley front owners may be giving up a measure of creative freedom which stems from the present benign neglect on the part of the City. Naturally, there will quite probably be new assessments as well. 
However there can be little doubt that we need a legal way to accomplish the possibility of things like driveways in projects such as your cottage proposed, and other imaginative forbidden uses, unthought of as yet, which may be worth it, so things can start to happen in pleasing and lively ways, down those lanes. Maybe the BFI trucks could even find another way to access the refuse!
I remember meeting with the city officials some years years back when we were considering a new business which would use one of the "backyards" behind a Main Street building. We planned to add a second floor to the building for residential rentals, and build a large "dining garden" on the open lot abutting Iron Horse, to complement the restaurant below. The City did not have the power to exempt us from devoting 1/2 of the back lot to parking for the units above, thereby killing the project. You are absolutely right, Orange county rules might not permit or nurture a Mendocino...
In any good treatment of the alleys the trick will be to provide for basics like setback variance,  drainage, lighting, paving, access, etc. without losing the feeling which we enjoy now when sections of the alleys are at their best. This may mean doing things a little differently, sometimes even inconveniently, to support something unique, which we value above the conventional.
Posted – 09/11/05 9:32am by Lynn R Slater

City policies… what policies?
City policies… what policies? Nothing has ever been publicly debated or voted on by the City Council. It took 40 (or so) years for the City to claim that they have no responsibilities for the alleys, and this came after they intended to pave them in 1984. There are complete engineering drawings on this project (PWC-391 – Niles Alleys). The last time alley discussions made it to the City Council, if I remember correctly, was 1997. There was no public debate because the City Council had a “closed door” meeting with their attorney. What was the secrecy for? What are they hiding? How did our community let this happen without debate or a vote? Isn’t this type of action considered unconstitutional?

Out of this meeting came their current position:

1. The City does not own them and takes no responsibility for their condition.

2. If a property owner whishes to make improvements to their property in Niles, and they intend to use the alley for access to their property, they must legally prove they have the right to use them, and then, they are required to pave them.

The reason I mention this again, is only to counteryour description of the City’s position as “benign neglect”. It appears to be more like “willful oppression, and denial of obligations” - at the expense of historic stewardship, the quality of our lives.


Paul Welschmeyer
Posted – 09/11/05 9:34am by Lynn R Slater

Be wary of a categorization of "Historic Resourc
I think that we need to be wary of a categorization of "Historic Resource". While this might be appropriate in gaining the protection of the alleys that the Niles community is looking for, we might ultimately cut our own throats. In my experience with State Parks, a "Historic" classification of any kind implies restricted use, restricted access, strictly defined parameters on upkeep and defined regulations on planting trees or any other flora/ fauna and required cultural and natural diversity surveys. I am not saying that this would be the case as a "Historic Resource." I just think we might benefit from looking into that particular classification. My first thought would be to make sure that the alleys will still be vehicular accessible with a "Historic Resource" listing.
Just my two cents.
3rd St.
Posted – 09/11/05 9:34am by Lynn R Slater

Legal limbo blocks improvements
What happened was the City required us to provide onsite parking(they didn't mention any restictions on entry from the Iron Horse Lane) for the four apartment units we proposed, plus they wanted a service access for the street level commercial space, if I remember correctly. For sure, it was at least four spaces, and that pretty much eliminated our chances of building the outdoor dining and reception venue that was the centerpiece of the project.
 That must have been around 2002, when we went to them with the proposal.
They acknowledged at that time that we would be "breaking a new trail" and they would "do their best to acommodate us" but I was surprised that they couldn't give us any guarantees or specific answers. Based on the fact that no one had made the type of investments and changes  we were proposing to commercial property in Niles since Fremont was formed, they confided  we would be flying somewhat by the seats of our pants on both sides of the table. 
Working this way with them, for the good of the community and district was an exciting thing to contemplate, until we realized we were the only ones at risk, and they held all the high cards. Then when the parking issue wasn't easily diffused, we began to see the writing on the wall.
I came away feeling answers would only be found the hard way by making investments on faith and finding out later what would really be allowed, after considerable engineering and architectural proposals and permit fees had been commissioned, let alone the purchase of the property. 
Maybe this is always the way these things work, maybe we were just in over our heads, but I thought it peculiar how noncommittal the staff was to our fairly specific questions. Our enthusiasm and confidence, which had been pretty high, got a good shot of cold water as a result, and we let the opportunity pass....
Posted – 09/11/05 9:40am by Lynn R Slater

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