LARRY CULBERTSON, president of the San Clemente Historical Society
On March 8, the Planning Commission will be considering a proposal to streamline the process for getting a building permit. The San Clemente Historical Society is concerned about the parts of that proposal that would diminish or remove the protection that historic buildings currently have.
City Council gave city staff and the Planning Commission a directive to modify the Zoning Code to make getting a building permit faster and easier. But we do not think it was the intention of council to remove the safeguards that are in place to protect historic resources.
The Zoning Code has evolved over the years. There was a time, not long ago, when a permit to bulldoze an Ole Hanson Era building could be obtained “over the counter.” Today, not only are historic buildings protected, but the area of protection has been extended to include projects in the neighborhoods surrounding those buildings.
The proposed amendment would allow many projects that now must go to the Planning Commission for approval to be rubber-stamped by Planning Department staff.
Another protection currently in place is the 300-foot rule. Projects within 300 feet of a historic building are held to a slightly higher standard of design than buildings further away. The purpose of this is to ensure that the architectural look and feel of the neighborhood, as stated in our Municipal Code, “will preserve and strengthen San Clemente’s historic identity as a Spanish Village.” The new proposal would slash the distance to only 120 feet.
The most disturbing aspect of the proposed amendment is that the lowered level of review would also eliminate the public notice and hearing that are currently required for many projects involving historic buildings or in the area surrounding them. This would deprive neighbors of their right to know about and provide input regarding projects that might impact their properties.
Please let the Planning Commission know that our existing Zoning Code is working just fine when it comes to protecting our historic buildings and it needs no streamlining.