Save Lawton Avenue, Oakland                      Updated January 11, 2012

Temescal residents are banding together against a developer's plans to build two large two-story houses on a small, vacant lot in the middle of a block of century-old 900 sqft bungalows. The buildings proposed for 4812 Lawton Avenue would tower over neighboring homes and yards, and would triple the building square footage vs. adjacent dwellings. This sets a dangerous precedent for the entire neighborhood, and could launch a domino effect whereby older homes are ripped down for profit. (Plan details are available in our Resource Center)

Neighbors welcome new construction on the now-empty lot, but argue that developer Tom Anthony's plans for the narrow 34ft-wide space are completely out of scale with the surrounding single-story bungalows and their lovely open gardens. Nine out of ten neighboring homes on Lawton, and more than three-quarters of houses surrounding Emerson School, are bungalows. (See neighborhood map in our Resource Center)

The two proposed buildings would take sunlight and privacy away from immediately adjacent properties, particularly from 4814 Lawton, where they would cast deep shadows across the living areas and garden of nearly the entire property. Through this new construction, the developer effectively takes away value from the neighboring properties and transfers it to himself. There are clearly other ways of developing this property to achieve the same or even higher density without taking light, privacy, and ultimately property value, away from neighbors.

Temescal locals may remember the late Jeanette Sherwin, a neighborhood activist whose tireless work twenty years ago helped to protect this very same lot from a similarly out-of-scale proposal. At that time, the City's Planning Commission unanimously rejected plans for a two-story building, declaring the proposal "massively out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood, which is predominately one story bungalows". The Commission eventually gave approval for "a one story building" stipulating that it must "not include a habitable attic or otherwise be taller than a one story building". (See our Resource Center for links to these past decisions).

Partly thanks to Jeanette's work, Oakland's zoning has just been strengthened to prevent exactly this type of large development on such a small lot. 
The City has already demanded design changes to reduce height and bulk, including a 7' 2" height reduction on the front building and a 5' 5" reduction in the rear building. Three stories have been reduced to two, and various changes were made to mitigate privacy effects on adjacent properties.

But the revised proposal is still completely out of proportion with the context of small lots and single-story bungalows. In addition, the revisions do not appear to conform to all mandatory open space and setback requirements, a reflection of the fact that too much building is being shoehorned into too small a space.

Officials have made it clear that the strictness of their application of zoning rules very much depends on public interest. Indeed, we know from Jeanette's work that it takes a lot of community engagement to show the City that people care.

Your neighbors on Lawton Avenue need your help.

Time is running out!

The City Planning Dept anticipates making a decision on this application during the second or third week of January, 2012.

If you are concerned about runaway development that robs neighbors of light and privacy, please get involved.

Write to City Zoning Manager Scott Miller and City Planner Mike Rivera, copying City Councillor Jane Brunner, citing case number CD11-169.
Please also send a copy to
  • Tell them that any new buildings at 4812 Lawton Avenue should be single-story.
  • Tell them that the new City Zoning rules, introduced just a few months ago, were designed to prevent exactly this type of inappropriate development and should be strictly applied.
  • Tell them that two buildings packed into such a small lot would set a dangerous precedent.
For more details on the revised plans, write to or check out the documents in our Resource Center.

Picture below taken in actual sunlight at noon on January 9, 2012
Note the deep shadow covering much of the rear yard,
threatening the viability and enjoyment of the garden.

Major shadow at noon, January 9, 2012

Picture below taken in actual sunlight at noon on January 9, 2012
Note the deep shadow cast onto the side of 4814 Lawton (left),
throwing the living room into utter darkness.