Planning Commission Surprises
The Costa Mesa Planning Commission met again Monday night in a meeting that was full of surprises, the first of which was that this meeting, at least in the beginning, played to a nearly packed house. My best guess was nearly 185 people filled the auditorium. You can count them in the photo above. This is a rare occurance for the Planning Commission.
During Public Comments two people spoke.
REHAB IMPACT - HOME BURGLARIES
Jay Humphrey observed about the homelessness issue in the city, and related it to the sober living homes, one of which recently produced a home burglar. He also complimented the Costa Mesa Fire Department on their new badge, and gave credit for the new design to Firefighter Scott Purcell.
Mary Spadoni reported on the success of the Town Hall last Thursday and showed some of the images from that program. She reminded folks that the video of the event is available on the Costa Mesa Brief YouTube site.
AN "OOPS" MOMENT
After passing the Consent Calendar, 5-0, without discussion Commissioner Colin McCarthy - observing the packed house, most of whom were present for Public Hearing #3 - suggested moving that item forward, so the commissioners voted to do that. Unfortunately, that caught the staff by surprise - Planner Mel Lee was still in his office. So, Zoning Administrator Willa Bowens-Killeen presented New Business #1 while we waited.
CAMPAIGN SIGN ISSUES
This item is a change in how signs - and campaign signs specifically - will now be handled. This slide provides a brief summary of the changes. The biggest one, in my estimation, is the fact that campaign signs will not be restricted to weekends, but will be permited throughout the week during the 6 weeks before an election and must be removed by 10 days following the election. The commission passed those changes on a 5-0 vote.
ARTS AND LEARNING CONSERVATORY
Then came Public Hearing #3, the request for a Conditional Use Permit to establish a music/theater arts and learning program for elementary and middle-school age children called Arts and Learning Conservatory utilizing an existing 6,000 square foot industrial building at 3184A Airway Avenue - which presently houses the Berean Community Church.
The applicant, Debora Wondercheck, presented a short video about the Conservatory and spoke of their successes. The use will be much less intense than the current church use and the parking requirements are also much less.
LAWYER - NO WAY!
During the Public Comments segment Michael Kehoe, a lawyer representing the association of the tenants in the industrial site argued that this was an inappropriate use, that parking is a problem and the parking management plan is inadequate.
BROKER SUPPORTS THE TENANTS
Matt Christiansen, a real estate broker, spoke in favor of the plan, citing much decreased intensity of use.
THE PASTOR IS IN FAVOR
Peter Kim, one of the lead pastors of the Berean Church, spoke of the growth of their church - 450 members and growing and reinforced their need to sell the property so they can move to a larger site. He observed that the only other use that might work for the building is another church, which would complicate parking.
LAWYER THINKS THEY ARE ON SOLID GROUND
Phillip Kim, a lawyer and member of the church, reminded the commissioners of the decreased intensity of use and the fact that it will improve the parking situation.
5-0 VOTE AND AWAY THEY GO!
After a fairly short discussion the commissioners approved the plan, 5-0, modifying language to impose a maximum number of students at certain times. More than 100 people left the auditorium following that vote.
SHARED PARKING HANDLED QUICKLY
Public Hearing #2, a shared parking arrangement at a location on Paularino and Red Hill Avenues, was dispatched in less than fifteen minutes. The crux of this project is the demolition of one 12,000 square foot building to make more parking to increase the viability of the retail center. It passed on a 5-0 vote.
BACKGROUND MUSIC FOR BARLEY FORGE
Public Hearing #4 is the request from the Barley Forge microbrewery for a modification of its use permit to allow live entertainment until 11 p.m. Their representative, Marice DePasquale, assured the commissioners that there had been no problems at this site, and that the music being proposed would not involve dancing - the space is just too small for that. Neither would it involve "shows". It will just be background music to add to the ambiance of the site. The commission passed this one, 5-0.
PUBLIC HEARING #5
This brought us to the big one of the evening, the request for a zoning change and permit to demolish an existing automotive retail center, which includes a couple restaurants, and replace it with 744 self-storage units and a small "food hall". This one was full of surprises, to say the least.
Paul Freeman, representing the property owner, provided his presentation and the reasoning behind it. He also spoke of providing a letter notifying tenants that they would have to relocate by October, 2017. Then the parade of twenty (20) members of the public addressing this issue, 90% were against the changes. Most were business owners in that strip mall, some of whom had been there for 20 years or longer. Chelsy Sharp spoke with passion about growing her business, only to have this rug pulled out. Speaker after speaker spoke of their trials and tribulations of founding and growing a business at that site. By the time the dust settled 20 people had spoken, including the young son of one of the business owners - an impressive showing for such an event and it provided some guidance to the commissioners about the zoning move.
A clearly frustrated Freeman returned to the podium and, again, explained their rationale for removing several viable businesses and impacting the lives of nearly 75 people. It is a land-use issue and they are not asking for much in the way of return except that pesky zoning change.
FOUR COMMISSIONERS OPPOSE
Then came long discussions by the commissioners during which Tim Sesler led the charge to oppose the proposal because not enough was being done to help the business owners who would be dislocated. Keep in mind, there is NO requirement in our codes for that kind of assistance.
MC CARTHY MOVES
McCarthy led three of the other commissioners opposing Chairman Rob Dickson's views and moved to reject each of the segments of this issue.. Dickson posed a substitute motion, which received no second. The original vote passed on a 4-1 vote, with Dickson voting no. This item will move along to the City Council.
This was a very curious situation, but one with a precident. Some may recall that not too long ago this commission rejected a property owner's plan to build five (5) homes on a large Eastside lot with a plan that met every requirement, including lot sizes. There was no way the commission would reject the plan! However, there was such community outrage, with complaints about such large homes ruining the character of the neighborhood, that the commission rejected the plan and required the owner to come back with a plan for four (4) houses on that large lot. It seemed very arbitrary to me at the time and this decision last night is the same - very arbitrary. However, in this case the owner wants a zoning change, which will apparently be held hostage until the owner does "something" to help the soon-to-be evicted tenants. We'll see what the City Council decides to do with this one.