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Planners Take to the Streets

Last Saturday about 60 people from the community as well as some Planning Commission officials surveyed Laguna Beach’s downtown area on foot, trying to form a common vision of potential revisions to a 23-year-old policy known as the Downtown Specific Plan.

“You have to have everybody looking at the same thing,” said Planning Commissioner Norm Grossman, stressing the importance of creating a common context, so that as many people as possible have the same level of information.

The large gathering, which also included city staff and some council and design review board members, divided into four groups to stroll through town, stopping to discuss what certain buildings might look like with an added story, or whether additional signage at a key intersection might be helpful or add to the confusion.

Planning commission member Anne Johnson said people participated that she had not previously seen engaged. “The main thing is just gathering information from the public about the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Johnson.

Since “everything is on the table again,” Johnson said she hopes to receive feedback from special interest groups such as architects, artists and business owners.

Another workshop is planned Jan. 30 to discuss the observations and conclusions of Saturday’s walking groups and to move the conversation forward with more specific goals. The public is encouraged to attend.

Issues under discussion include changing building height limitations, perhaps considering two-story buildings; rethinking allowed uses; reworking parking configurations and possibly removing mandatory space requirements from specific uses, Grossman said. People who park downtown often visit more than one business, so requiring that each maintain a certain number of spaces may be overkill.

Finalized in 1989, the 133-page Downtown Specific Plan, available on the city’s web site, serves as a growth and development guideline to “preserve and enhance the unique character of the downtown.” It is bounded by Legion Street to the south and Cliff Drive to the north.

Of the nine amendments since its inception, the most notable, passed in 2000, expanded the plan’s western boundary to the Boys & Girls Club on Laguna Canyon Road and created the Civic Art District. It has been suggested that the next amendment expand the Civic Art District to include Act V and the Laguna College of Art and Design.

Since the City Council called for a comprehensive overhaul of the plan last July, the Planning Commission approved a staff-developed timeline for information gathering and analysis, including public workshops, leading to the adoption of an amended plan by March 2014 and certification by the Coastal Commission in 2015.

Principal planner Carolyn Martin, who is spearheading the project, said after only 10 people showed up at the first public workshop in September, she personally delivered fliers to businesses downtown. About 50 people attended the November workshop.

“People need to realize how important it is for the community to get involved in processes such as these,” said Grossman. “We’re there to listen.”

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