Public gets their say in downtown zoning rules
The slow and painstaking chore of rewriting the rules for downtown development is being handed over to the public.
After two months of planning commission review city council began their review of a new version of the city’s downtown development regulations at their April 25 meeting, setting May 9 as the date for gathering public testimony on the proposed changes. “There will be this public hearing and other times for us to get input, before any new rules are put in place,” mayor John Liebert told other city council members.
Blaine community development director Terry Galvin reviewed the planning commission’s recommendations with council members at a work session preceding the April 25 meeting.
The proposal divides the central business district into three segments but doesn’t change the size of the commercial core. The market district would be intended to concentrate retail and services in a pedestrian shopping area, the wharf to encourage a mix of historical marine uses and growing tourism uses, and the transitional zone to buffer the residential neighborhoods south of downtown.
Galvin said most of the changes being proposed were designed to increase efficiency and flexibility in processing applications for downtown development. “If we can achieve what we’re trying to achieve without another regulatory layer we should do it,” he said.
The city’s turn-of-the century design guidelines will still be part of downtown development regulations, Galvin said, but the new rules would give planners and developers more flexibility. “My job is not to get turn-of-the-century as much as it is to maintain a quality design standard,” he said. “It’s not that we want to replicate old buildings,” added city manager Gary Tomsic. “I think we should have things in our community that are really us, really Blaine.”
Galvin said the rules addressed that by directing builders to avoid long flat expanses of wall and encouraging different planes and roof lines. “The function is to create some character, a human scale, create that small town feel,” he said. “We’re looking more at elevating standards rather than enforce a certain style.”
City council members expressed some misgivings that the turn-of-the-century theme was open to misinterpretation and needed to be simplified. “Let’s say I presented you with a design for a mission style office, you’d say it wasn’t turn-of-the-century and I’d say it’s turn-of-the-century San Diego,” said Ken Ely. Tomsic agreed that hanging a label on Blaine’s downtown could be too restrictive. “As soon as you call it something you have an issue of what it means,” he said.
However, he added, without some guidelines someone could build a Disneyland style castle in the middle of town. “We want interesting architecture in our city but you have to have boundaries. We’re providing those kinds of parameters and not getting hung up on being turn-of-the-century.”
The changes regulations are proposing that the cumbersome planning commission review process for project approval be replaced by review by an independent architect with final decision by the planning department. “We’ve decided to informalize it therefore creating better flexibility,” Galvin said.
Galvin said that two of the planning commission recommendations are likely to get a lot of attention as city council reviews the proposal: a requirement for new buildings on the west side of Peace Portal Drive between Boblett and F streets to build a boardwalk section and a requirement for developers to provide two parking spaces per downtown residential unit.
“I’m not saying that a boardwalk in that area wouldn’t be good. I think it’s a goal that ought to be accomplished at a more public level,” Tomsic said. Since the city is financing the boardwalk between G and H streets Tomsic said the city should perhaps require an easement for the boardwalk from future development, but look for public funding to build it. “Development on the west side of Peace Portal is a tough thing to do. You add additional requirements and it becomes that much less economically feasible.”
Tomsic also thinks the burden of creating parking downtown should be somewhat lifted from developers and taken on by the city. The planning commission recommends the developer needs to build two new parking spots per residential unit.
“There is really good evidence to cause us to rethink that,” Tomsic said. Council members discussed options to publicly fund some downtown parking and agreed to a work session on the subject prior to the May 9 city council meeting.