Monday, July 11, 2016

Business As Usual At Planning Commission

As anticipated, the Costa Mesa Planning Commission processed all the items before them Monday night, although not without some significant dialog.  Vice Chair Jeff Mathews was absent.

The commissioners began the evening by praising now-departed Assistant Director of Development Services, Claire Flynn.  They spoke of her professionalism and bemoaned the loss of her skills and institutional knowledge.
Public Hearing #1, that bifurcation of a single lot at the corner of Tustin and Walnut in the Eastside received a lot of discussion by nearby neighbors, who didn't like the change this would make in their neighborhood.  Among the complaints were the increase in traffic and loss of privacy by contiguous neighbors due to second story outside living areas.  This was simply an approval of the tract map, not approval of any development per se, so the neighbors get another shot at this as projects are proposed.   It was interesting, though, that the commissioners were sensitive to the previous proposal across Tustin on Walnut Place in which the neighbors convinced the commission to deny splitting a lot in to five segments - none of which were less than 6,000 square feet - and told the owner to come back with a plan for four lots. They denied that this project was the same thing - apples and red oranges was the phrase one commissioner used.  The commission approved the map on a 4-0 vote.
Public Hearing #2 is the proposed expansion of Vivante on the far Westside.  This discussion took much longer than I thought it would, with concerns expressed about the proposed setback and concerns by speakers about the proximity to the Hixson Metals facility.  Chair Rob Dickson addressed that issue firmly, citing the fact that the AQMD is on top of the issue.  The proposal asks to replace a previously-approved plan for office space with more housing units, a fitness center and an events center.  Relatives of residents had several questions about issues during the construction, most of which revolved around the safety of their loved-ones during that time.  Others expressed concerned about the density of the expansion.  The owner patiently took time to address all the concerns, emphasizing that they have a $100 million investment that they want to protect.  Subsequent discussions included concern about undergrounding utilities from two remaining poles.  The commissioners moved this proposal forward on a 4-0 vote a couple of modifications clarifying the undergrounding of utilities.
Public Hearing #3 is the design review of a small lot project at 155 Flower Street at the corner of Fullerton Avenue.   The two homes proposed by the developer will, in theory, sell in the $1.4 million range!  Yikes!  Concerns were expressed about privacy from second story windows.  Colin McCarthy sarcastically muttered at one point, "Where are all the SLO naysayers when you need them?"  He and Stephan Andranian praised the lot as the perfect application of the Small Lot Ordinance. The map was approved quickly on a 4-0 vote.
Next up was Public Hearing #4,  a companion project by the same developer, at 163 Flower.  This one proved to be more problematic due to the configuration of the residences on the site.  The alley at the rear of the property created a significant amount of heartburn for members of the public.  The second unit basically fronts on the alley, with only a narrow side gate on the front property identifying the rear residence.  The narrowness of the alley was a primary concern expressed by Jay Humphrey and others.  Others expressed concern about construction traffic in the alley and were worried about construction noise from 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.  In addressing this project McCarthy said "We're cursed with this alley issue throughout the Eastside," and bemoaned the fact that there really is no better alternative for this property.   Dickson asked for inclusion of conditions of approval addressing the identifying of pedestrian access to the rear unit on Flower Street.  He also asked for a Construction Management plan, including limitations on the use of the alley for construction vehicles.  The commission approved the plan, 4-0.

During his report Director of Development Services Gary Armstrong alerted the commissioners that, due to the anticipated very heavy workload coming up he will be polling the commissioners about having three meetings per month rather than two, probably starting in September for a couple months.  I suspect this has to do with the mountain of sober living home applications and appeals.  This certainly will put an additional burden on an already stressed staff and those appeals will be high-visibility issues.  It's going to be an interesting fall, for sure.

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