As the General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) and the Planning Commission work on the city’s new Centennial General Plan, urban design issues – including downtown building height and “village character” — have been a focus of recent discussions. This subject is interesting considering that building design is an important part of downtown San Clemente’s historic “village character.” Allow me to shed some light on the subject.
Where is historic Downtown? The historic downtown, also referred to as the “T- Zone,” generally includes El Camino Real, from Palizada to Presidio and Del Mar from El Camino Real to Calle Seville.
What do current zoning codes allow? Most of the T-Zone allows commercial uses or buildings that combine commercial uses on the ground floor with dwellings above or “mixed use.” In this area, new buildings with commercial uses alone are limited to two stories, or 33 feet in height, while new mixed use buildings can have up to three stories, or 45 feet in height. Only buildings with mixed uses can be three-story. Development of mixed-use projects requires public hearings and approval of planning permits to ensure land uses are compatible and building designs follow the city’s zoning codes and design guidelines. Since adoption of the city’s current General Plan (1993), six buildings (only one on Del Mar) with three stories have been built in the T-Zone, though the property at 204 Avenida Del Mar technically represents a remodel of the old Cornet building with portions of the original building retained. The other three-story properties include: 139 and 154 Avenida Victoria; 107 Avenida De La Estrella; 127 Avenida Serra; and
, 115 Avenida Miramar.
What does the GPAC recommend? GPAC members, during their discussion of downtown land use and “village character” voted 10 to 7, with two abstentions and six members absent, to support a ban on new three-story buildings on Del Mar and El Camino Real in the T-Zone. The GPAC is a 24-member committee appointed by the City Council to act as a “sounding board” and advise the Planning Commission and City Council regarding the proposed General Plan. The City Council has the final say.
What was the Planning Commission’s action? At their September 19
th meeting, the Planning Commission, though not a formal vote, agreed that three-story buildings should continue to be allowed on Del Mar and El Camino Real in the T-Zone and that the city should develop stronger design standards that ensure new three-story buildings protect and enhance village character. Noting that three-story buildings were already located , the commission did not support GPAC’s recommendation to limit development here to two stories.
When is decision-making time? The City Council considers GPAC and Planning Commission recommendations as part of its consideration of adopting a new General Plan. The City Council is expected to make a decision on the new General Plan by April 2013. Your City Council is one that encourages transparency and seeks community input on many levels. An example is the General Plan where we have from many perspectives, knowledge and experience of GPAC members and Planning Commissioners, and input from residents via a phone survey to help develop a new, long-range plan for San Clemente that represents the interests of the community-at-large. We carefully evaluate all projects against our long-term economic development vision, environmental standards, building and zoning rules to ensure we preserve the integrity of our community’s vision and goals. The General Plan process may also lead to additional restrictions and design standards to further protect downtown’s unique character and give added predictability to the development review process. We will have to wait and see what City Council decides.
In closing, rest assured that from those I’ve spoken with on either side of this discussion, all agree that preservation and enhancement of our village character is a priority. We’re among the 85.6 percent who want this. Similarly, this is an issue where we should be able to come together as a community and do what’s right for San Clemente.