SCSQUARED halfBy Eric Heinz

Amendments of the city’s General Plan regarding zoning and parking were discussed at length Tuesday night during the City Council’s regularly scheduled meeting.

Throughout the discussion, councilmembers debated the changes to the city’s planning ordinance regarding the amount of allowable space within commercial buildings with relation to parking availability—which is known as “floor area ratio” or FAR—as well as how developers can apply for height variances in certain zoned areas.

The council debated two ordinances during their first reading, the first dealing with zoning discrepancies that needed reworking and the second addressed various mixed use areas.

The centerpiece of the discussion has revolved around the heavily debated project at 1010 South El Camino Real, where developer Nick Buchanan has volleyed with city planning staff and representatives for almost two years regarding a proposed two-story residential and commercial building.

One of the main issues with the project is 2 feet of the building could theoretically block ocean views from Interstate 5, but, as planning commissioners said at previous meetings and councilmembers reiterated Tuesday, the question was: would that affect the overall view space?

Buchanan brought his mixed-use project plans to the Planning Commission and council because he said he wanted to invest in the potential he sees in the South El Camino real neighborhoods.

Buchanan said although the project has been tweaked throughout the planning process, he would not be able to go lower because of the ceiling height needed for adequate space. Buchanan lowered the overall height of the building after the General Plan passed changes requiring the structure he is trying to build to be a maximum 35 feet high instead of the originally planned 45 feet.

“I have been flexible … and I’m OK with 35 feet. Another 2 feet (lower) is perceivable but makes a difference,” Buchanan said.

The council voted to approve the amendments and to keep the process of having City Council approve conditional use permits in order to allow for height variances. The vote for the second set of amendments was 3-0-2, with Councilman Tim Brown recused because he owns property within 500 feet of the affected areas, and Councilwoman Lori Donchak absent due to personal matters.

To read the ordinance changes, visit and find the agenda under the City Council tab. To view the City Council’s action and discussion, visit the city’s YouTube page, “City of San Clemente.”


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