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New Work-Live Rules Drafted

Artist Louis Longi shortly after flooding in December 2010 delayed his plans to develop an artist live-work space in Laguna Canyon.

After more than a year revising land use rules to smooth the path for development of affordable work-live spaces for artists, the Planning Commission last week approved new modifications and conditions for a proposed ordinance.

Also debated but not included in the formal recommendation to the City Council is the suggestion to consider raising building height limits to 48 feet in the industrially zoned section of Laguna Canyon. Any change in the city’s 36-foot height limit, approved by voters in 1971 in a backlash over the view blocking five-story Surf and Sand Resort, is sure to be controversial. Commissioners Anne Johnson and Linda Dietrich endorse it as a necessary incentive for builders to add affordable units to their projects.

The proposed measure is expected to come before the council on May 1.

Although any easing of the height ceiling would be restricted to a specific area, Commissioner Norm Grossman expressed concern that such a change may lead to future conflicts outside the designated zone.

A builder would be eligible for a height extension by providing more than the minimum 25 percent requirement of affordable units as well as designs that minimize mass and view blockage under the conditions recommended by the commission.

Last year, Laguna Beach imposed a moratorium on artist live-work projects while staff surveyed concerned artists about their needs. The results showed that while artists live mostly in town, they work wherever they can and legitimate live-work spaces are in short supply.

Artist live-work spaces are permitted in the Civic Arts District, defined as along downtown’s Third Street and Laguna Canyon Road to the Boys and Girls Club.

A few artist work-live spaces exist; on the grounds of the Seven Degrees event space and four occupied by Laguna College of Art and Design students adjacent to the Art-A-Fair grounds.

Previously, artist live-work rules allowed developers some breaks, such as requiring only a single parking spot per unit while condos require two, explained sculptor Louis Longi, who is developing his own work-live unit in Laguna Canyon. Setback, density and landscaping rules are also typically less stringent and thus an advantage to builders to classify condos as live-work spaces.

Last week, the commission reversed the emphasis to work-live from live-work in order to encourage development of units for making art rather than living quarters and established 50-50 space ratios for work and living areas in all zones except for industrially zoned sections encompassing most of Laguna Canyon Road. Exceptions include the Laguna College of Art and Design, the animal shelter and the Pacific Mammal Center, where the ratio would be two-thirds work and one-third residential.

The commission’s recommendations include the stipulation that artists buying or renting such units would be required to obtain a conditional use permit. Their applications, including those for modifications or improvements, would be reviewed by a yet to be established three-member artist review panel, whose membership includes at least one working artist.

Such a panel would also be tasked with obtaining from applicants legitimate artist credentials. What exactly constitutes such credentials has yet to be agreed upon. Suggestions included letters of recommendation from other artists and college transcripts verifying training, a move that might be discriminatory against self-taught or older, non-degreed applicants.

The panel also agreed to ease parking requirements for units designated as affordable and to allow artists to use outside areas as individual or common work spaces. Parking may also be designated “in common” and allowable retail space has been increased to 15 from 10 percent.

Builders still must comply with guidelines concerning building materials and styles compatible with the area, and new tenants may have to sign consents over moving into a light-industrial area, typically exempt from some noise and dust standards.

Above all, the proposed rules aim to provide workable solutions to keep artists in town while also being respectful of the public process, said Johnson, whose husband is a stone sculptor. “Artists rely on synergy. They need communication and cooperation with each other to create, and to form communities,” she said.

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