TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL
CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE PLANNING COMMISSION
FROM: DIRECTOR OF PLANNING, BUILDING AND CODE ENFORCEMENT
DATE: OCTOBER 22, 2005
SUBJECT: TOPICS OF DISCUSSION FOR THE JOINT WORKSHOP
At the July 5, 2005 City Council meeting, the Council identified a number of desired adjourned City Council meetings, workshops and city events that it would like to have in the next four months and set dates and times for those meetings and events. One of the meetings identified by the Council was a joint meeting between the Planning Commission (PC) and City Council (CC). Historically, there have been periodic joint workshops held between the two bodies to discuss general issues and policies. The last joint PC/CC workshop was held on February 8, 2003 to discuss the "by right height limit" issues.
Although the Council did not identify any specific topics to discuss when it agreed to have a joint workshop, the PC did end up identifying a number of discussion items at its September 13, 2005 meeting (excerpt minutes attached). Each topic suggested by the PC is listed below along with a short explanation of each topic.
1. Neighborhood Compatibility Review Findings
Recommendation: Discuss the Cityís Neighborhood Compatibility review findings and how they are being applied
Many of the projects reviewed by the PC require that the Commission make a determination as to whether a new house or addition is compatible with the immediate neighborhood character (in comparison to the 20 developed properties closest to the proposed project). As explained in the Cityís Neighborhood Compatibility Handbook (excerpted pages attached), "neighborhood compatibility" is achieved when a new home or addition blends in with the following characteristics of the immediate neighborhood:
Furthermore, for assessing an architectural style, the Cityís Development Code defines "style" as design elements, which consist of, but are not limited to:
Façade treatment, height of structure, open space between structures, roof design and the apparent bulk and mass of the structure.
The Planning Commission understands that Cityís neighborhood compatibility review criteria is completely discretionary and subjective and must be applied to projects on a case-by-case basis since the characteristics of neighborhoods vary throughout the City. Recognizing that at times the CC has had to also make the neighborhood compatibility findings when certain PC decisions are appealed to the CC, the PC thought it would be useful to hear from the CC as to its approach in making the necessary neighborhood compatibility findings.
2. Cumulative View Impact Finding
Recommendation: Discuss the "Cumulative View" impact finding for Height Variation Applications and how it is to be applied.
When a new house or addition is proposed to exceed 16 feet in height, the approval of a Height Variation application is necessary. To approve a Height Variation Application, nine separate findings have to made, including the following "cumulative view" finding (finding 6):
There is no significant cumulative view impairment caused by granting the application. Cumulative view impairment shall be determined by: (a) considering the amount of view impairment that would be caused by the proposed new structure that is above sixteen feet in height or addition to a structure that is above sixteen feet in height; and (b) considering the amount of view impairment that would be caused by the construction on other parcels of similar new structures or additions that exceed sixteen feet in height.
According to the Cityís Height Variation Guidelines, "significant cumulative view impairment will be considered when the individual structure may not significantly impair views, but when the effect of the structure could, in combination with other similar structures, create significant view impairment". The Guidelines go on to state that view impairment should be considered with other nearby parcels within the view shed, usually not to extend beyond three or four parcels. As such, in order to analyze this finding, Staff looks at the view impairment caused by the subject project together with the potential view impairment that would be caused if similar additions were constructed on adjacent parcels. Attached are photographs from a recent project where Staff assessed a cumulative view impact.
Given the unusual aspect of this finding, which requires the City to judge a current project based on scenarios that may or may not occur in the future, Commissioner Knight suggested that a discussion on this finding might be helpful and the PC agreed.
3. CC&Rís, Deed Restrictions and Private Easements
Recommendation: Discuss whether to advise project applicants to check for any CC&Rís, Deed Restrictions or private easement location/restrictions that may exist on their property as part of the Cityís application review process.
At the request of Commissioner Jack Karp, the PC agreed to add this topic to the joint workshop to hear the CCís feedback on his suggestions. The following is an excerpt from the PCís September 13, 2005 minutes, when Commissioner Karp explained the reason for his suggested topic:
Commissioner Karp stated that he would like to have a discussion regarding advising applicants for permits to check recorded deed restrictions and other restrictions on the property, as well as with the Homeowners Association. He felt that having an approval from the City or Planning Commission may give a homeowner a false sense of security if what they are proposing is prohibited by deed restriction or the HOA. He understood the concept that the City does not enforce private contracts, however he felt it was important to call to the applicantís attention that they should view this before going too far into the application process.
At the PCís last meeting on October 11th, Commissioner Karp suggested, and the PC agreed, to add to this item a discussion of requiring applicants to check for private easement restrictions as part of the Cityís review process. It is anticipated that Commissioner Karp will present his position on these topics at the joint meeting.
It should also be noted that on October 26, 2004, the PC did discuss Commissioner Karpís suggestion related to the disclosure and discussion of private CC&Rís when considering development applications. The PC took no formal action. The October 26, 2004 Staff Report and excerpt minutes are attached.
4. Upcoming Major Development Projects
Recommendation: Discuss what major development projects are coming up for Planning Commission and/or City Council review.
At the request of Commissioner Craig Mueller, the PC agreed to add this topic to the joint workshop to hear the CCís feedback on the PCís role in the review of future major development projects. The following is an excerpt from the PCís September 13, 2005 minutes, when Commissioner Mueller explained the reason for his suggested topic:
Commissioner Mueller noted that many of the larger projects are being streamlined directly to the City Council and avoiding the Planning Commission and felt that a discussion with the City Council would be beneficial for the Planning Commission to better understand their role in future large development projects.
Director/Secretary Rojas clarified that there is no fast tracking of projects to the City Council, as the Development Code dictates what must go before the Planning Commission. He explained that revisions to the larger projects must go before the last body that reviewed the project, which in the case of the larger projects, like Trump National and the Long Point Hotel project, is the City Council. He also noted that there are many larger projects coming up, such as General Plan amendments and the Marymount College project that will have to be reviewed by the Planning Commission.
Commissioner Mueller felt that was a good explanation, but stated he would like to hear the City Council reaffirm that position.
At this point, Staff anticipates that the PC will be reviewing the following "major" projects in the coming year:
Marymount College Expansion Project
New service station/convenience store at Golden Cove
General Plan Amendment on Nantasket Road
5. Multiple Project Revisions
Recommendation: Discuss development projects with multiple revisions and how that could incrementally change the original project.
At the request of Commissioner Jim Knight, the PC agreed to add this topic to the joint workshop to hear the CCís feedback on the issue of major development projects that seek multiple revisions after the initial approval. The following is an excerpt from the PCís September 13, 2005 minutes, when Commissioner Knight explained the reason for his suggested topic:
Vice Chairman Knight felt that a discussion with the City Council on Conditional Use Permit revisions would be helpful, in that some projects may have so many revisions that they may are no longer close to the concept that was originally approved.
It is not uncommon for the developer of major projects such as Trump National, Terranea (Long Point Hotel Resort), or any large residential tract to request amendments to the originally approved applications. This is because as time goes by, changes in market demands, construction methods, and project ownership make changes to these large projects necessary. The last body that took action on the original applications reviews amendments to approved projects. For the large projects, this is typically the CC. Usually an amendment is approved if the CC finds that the amendment does not create any additional impacts than what would result with the original project, the amendment is consistent with the Development Code, and the amendment is generally consistent with the intent of the original project.
6. Role of the Planning Commission in Appeals to City Council
Recommendation: Discuss the role of the Planning Commission when an appeal of a Planning Commission decision is being heard by the City Council.
At the request of Commissioner Stephen Perestam, the PC agreed to have a discussion with the CC on the role of the Planning Commission in a matter that is on appeal to the City Council.
It has been the practice of the PC to have a representative of the PC in attendance at a CC appeal hearing to answer any questions the CC may have about the PCís decision. Typically this has been handled by either the PC Chair attending the hearing or if he/she cannot attend, designating the Vice-Chair or other designee to attend.
Since January 2004, when most of the current PC was appointed, there have been 4 PC decisions that have been appealed to the CC (see attached table). Although the PC minutes related to an appealed item are presented to the CC with the staff report at the appeal hearing, the CC has found it helpful to have a PC representative present at the meeting to clarify any issues that may come up during the appeal hearing concerning the PCís decision. At most of the appeal hearings noted in the attached table, the PC representative has been in the audience waiting to be called upon. However, at the last appeal hearing, the PC representative sat at the staff table and answered questions that came up. This approach was more effective for communicating the PCís review of the appeal item to the CC and should be continued at any future appeal hearings.
Joel Rojas, AICP
Director of Planning, Building
and Code Enforcement
September 13, 2005 excerpt PC minutes
Pages 1-5 of Neighborhood Compatibility Handbook
Cumulative view assessment photo
October 26, 2004 PC staff report and excerpt minutes
Table Ė summary of PC decision appeals