Downtown Rules Due for Revision

The Downtown Specific Plan, a thick volume of specific do’s and don’ts compiled nearly 23 years ago to preserve the seaside village and art colony character of downtown Laguna Beach, is ready for a redux.

As part of the approval of the city’s fiscal 2012-13 budget last week, the City Council okayed paying $120,000 for a consultant to rework the 133-page plan that serves as a roadmap for downtown development. The consultant will coordinate changes to the tome with city personnel, the city’s planning commission and local resident comment starting this fall before submitting revisions for City Council review and more local input.

The plan’s revision was the largest of a score of discretionary projects from bike racks to pet rescue that the council approved for funding from a community assistance grant. The money comes from rental income on the public park occupied by the Festival of Arts.

To no one’s surprise, the major area needing retooling is parking, said John Montgomery, director of community development.  In addition to increasing foot traffic, some of the parking concerns that will be addressed, he said, are high-tech meter pricing to move cars more quickly, adding more parking spaces, expanding existing lots and the possibility of building new structures.

“We need to figure out how the downtown can work better to help the businesses prosper,” said City Manager John Pietig.  “What are all the ideas that are going to come up as a result of the effort, I don’t know.”

Two other areas of focus will be beautification of Broadway Street, the town’s main gateway, and expanding the plan’s boundaries up Laguna Canyon Road to the Laguna College of Art and Design. The summer arts festivals are currently part of the plan.

The guidebook, which describes specific details from acceptable rooftop pitches to millwork on windows, provides rules for allowable building styles as well as types of businesses. Over the years, its provisions discouraging chain outlets and redundancy among merchants have contributed to Laguna’s reputation as a difficult place to establish a new business. The district currently runs from the commercial area at Legion Street west across the central streets downtown, up to Cliff Drive and then out Laguna Canyon Road to the Civic Art District, which covers 45 acres including the long-planned-for Village Entrance site.

Parking, business mix and the City Hall process of obtaining conditional use permits to run a business in the downtown district will be some of the subjects revisited, according to Ann Johnson, a longtime  planning commissioner. Businesses on Ocean Avenue will also be reviewed, she said.  The two-block- long street from Forest Avenue to Coast Highway was designated for resident-serving businesses. “But the reality is it’s creeping away from that,” said Johnson. “We feel the revision is long overdue.” Current occupants include an artist supply, banks, outpatient medical care and a market as well as restaurants, galleries and boutiques.

The guidebook was last revised in 2000 when the canyon’s Civic Art District was designated within the plan, which allowed for some height-limit exemptions. This will be the second major amendment, Montgomery said.

Any amendments to the plan will require environmental review, according to a process outlined in the existing document, which can be accessed at http://www.lagunabeachcity.net/civica/filebank/blobdload.asp?BlobID=7790.

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  1. Les Miklosy

    “We need to figure out how the downtown can work better to help the businesses prosper,” said City Manager John Pietig. “What are all the ideas that are going to come up as a result of the effort, I don’t know.”

    A city sponsored task force called the Task Force for Complete Streets met with city leaders for 4 years offering recommendations to help businesses prosper by increasing foot-traffic. Out of 98 propositions the city acted on two. Had the city paid attention to the qualified volunteers from this task force, they would already have answers.

    The proposals, recommendations, meeting minutes and free advice are posted at the blog LagunaStreets.blogspot.com.

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