July 22, 2009

"It opens the door for other projects to go higher."

An article by Fred Swegles entitled "San Clemente Rejects 4-Level Development Across from Pier" appeared today in the OC Register (thank you sender for alerting me). Read below to see how San Clemente City Councilmembers responded to a development project which, as proposed, exceeds the City's 30-foot building height restriction and also exceeds the City's lot-coverage limits. For many Long Beachers, this hits a little close to home....

A vacant lot directly across from the entrance to the San Clemente Pier will remain vacant a little longer.

On a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, the City Council turned down a plan to build a four-level, 5,348-square-foot commercial/residential development on a 3,200-square-foot lot at 614 Avenida Victoria.

Council members denied permits for the project "without prejudice," meaning architect Michael Luna is welcome to submit a revised plan.

In May, city planning commissioners approved the proposal, which exceeds a 30-foot height limit and the city’s lot-coverage limits. City code allows a project to exceed standards if it provides "substantial public benefits." The City Council has discretion to say yes or no.

The council majority Tuesday wasn't convinced that offerings such as a covered public patio, a tile mural, public benches and decorative tile sidewalks justify making the building bigger than standards allow.

Mayor Lori Donchak joined Councilmen Wayne Eggleston and Bob Baker in deciding that the project would be too big.

"The Pier Bowl is a sensitive area," Eggleston said, recounting a history of big developments that caused an outcry and were dismissed either by the city or the California Coastal Commission.

Councilmen Jim Dahl and Joe Anderson dissented.

"In my view, it's pretty comparable to what's been built there in recent years," Anderson said.

Dahl questioned the practice of asking for public benefits. "It borders on bribery," he said.

There was debate about the city's practice of establishing average building heights in the Pier Bowl while adding in the heights of buildings that went up before the city tightened the zoning code. Approval of this building would push the average higher, Donchak said. "It opens the door for other projects to go higher," she said.

Most residents who attended Tuesday's public hearing opposed letting the project exceed the posted standards.

"Once you start allowing greater heights than the standard, then the next guy is going to go higher and the next guy is going to go higher," Scott Hunt said. "Everything is going to be that high, because you're going to keep adding the averages up, up, up."

Critics and supporters agreed that they like the project's architecture.

"This is going to be the best-looking building on the block," said David Brown, a supporter.