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3-Story Debate Continues

Tweaks to San Clemente's overall development blueprint still don't please those who favor a ban on taller buildings downtown.

As the San Clemente Planning Commission continues to refine the massive policy package that will govern development in San Clemente over the next decade, the most contentious point continues to be a proposed ban on three-story buildings downtown.

Some have accused the pro-ban side, led by the San Clemente Historical Society, of advocating an overly blunt instrument to keep the city's vital village character and human scale.

"We have been working to preserve more or less what is already here while offering owners certain options, as well as working to promote architectural interest and beauty," Planning Commissioner Jim Ruehlin said at the commission's fourth meeting on the subject Tuesday night.

The commissioners, who have been reviewing the new general plan before sending it to the City Council for final approval, decided to oppose a ban on three-story buildings.

General Plan Advisory Commissioner Richard Boyer said although a two-story limit may not be the most elegant policy, many citizens don't trust city government to preserve the downtown's character.

"It's no secret San Clemente hasn't had the most responsive government," Boyer said. "Two stories is probably not good public policy, just as a three-story limit isn't."

The solution? Form-based codes, say some on the Planning Commission and City Council candidates Jim Dahl and Mike Mortenson. These zoning rules are developed in a process of public design charettes and architectural consultation that takes into consideration the full streetscape, as in a building's relationship with other buildings and with elements of the roadway and public spaces.

Proponents look at this type of zoning as a more surgical approach to maintaining both San Clemente's village character and property rights of

But a large swath of the community remains skeptical. Alan Korsen of the San Clemente Historical Society, along with its new president said the current general plan draft wouldn't protect historic downtown San Clemente.

"I have yet to see who would determine who gets to put up three stories [and who doesn't]," Korsen said. "There's nothing here that's going to help retain the small-town feel."

Council candidates Bob Baker and Chris Hamm have echoed comments by members of the historical society, accusing other candidates of kowtowing to business interests.

Adam Townsend November 01, 2012 at 04:09 PM
I would also cite press releases and letters to the editor from the Historical Society on the subject that have been published on Patch: http://sanclemente.patch.com/articles/letter-to-the-editor-don-t-let-tall-buildings-overwhelm-downtown (an opinion piece by the current president of the San Clemente Historical Society, for example.)
Mike Cotter November 01, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Adam, you are correct in your characterization of the Historical Society being out front on this issue. We're at a cultural crossroads. I was pointing out that the 3-story ban idea was INITIATED not by the Society but by the General Plan Advisory Committee. You have omitted this important fact from your otherwise excellent reporting before. The fact that the GPAC initiated this discussion is an important fact, because the GPAC is appointed by the City Council to represent ALL the residents in the community. The Historical Society represents an important segment of the community who are interested in historical and cultural preservation.
Dan Bane November 02, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Form Based Codes are an attempt to evade the law? Let's not forget that the current proposal to enact an outright ban on all three story buildings is, in fact, a CHANGE to the current law that has been in place for decades. What happens to those buildings that are currently three stories? They become legal non-conforming. Have you ever tried to get property insurance or make improvements to a legal non-conforming building as a property owner? I doubt it. It is nearly impossible. Will those buildings be allowed to rebuild (should they be destroyed by fire, etc.) or make improvements? Current codes would seem to suggest not. No one would insure a building that can't be rebuilt under the code. This horrible policy has far greater implications than the GPAC or the Historical Society appears to have given thought to. When I was on the GPAC, this idea was shot down early on. Not sure how it is reared its ugly head again. It's a knee-jerk reaction to the Olen project. This is not how planning should occur. It takes foresight and flexibility. An outright 3 story-ban offers neither. The CUP process is more than adequate to protect the character of the downtown. Bob Baker No. 1 also said in the debates that he did not agree that the 3 story ban was the best approach. However, Mortenson and Dahl are the only two candidates that have offered a SOLUTION which addresses the concerns of both the property owners and those wanting to avoid the "canyonization" of the T-Zone.
Jim Ruehlin November 02, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Tom is right - the idea that San Clemente needs 3-story buildings to maintain its village character is ludicrous. And Tom is wrong - no one on the Planning Commission thinks 3-story buildings are necessary to maintain our village character. In fact, the Planning Commission aligned with the General Plan Advisory Committee in acknowledging that too many 3-story buildings over the next 20 years can adversely affect the village character of Del Mar. So the Commission directed staff to develop policies to preserve and enhance village character in that area. Some of the new preservation tools and directives in the new General Plan include: * New perspectives on circulation and parking so property owners can build out into their parking lots instead of building up. * Increased ground-floor open space on larger buildings * Preserving distinctive architecture that isn't necessarily Spanish Colonial Revival Form Based Codes are just another tool we could use to prevent canyonization and enhance village character. They create new zoning ordinances through public collaboration and negotiation. The GP is the "highest law" in the city. City Council, committees, and city laws are required to conform to the GP. So these policies will necessarily lead Planning Commissions of the future to preserve the village character in Del Mar These are my personal views and do not represent the San Clemente Planning Commission or any of the other Planning Commissioners.
Tom Barnes November 02, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Depending on the Planning Commission to protect our village character is like having the fox guard the hen house. They voted for the loss of Open Space to condos overturned by Measure C; illegal signs at Marblehead overturned by the courts; the land giveaway at North Beach to the LAB overturned by Measure A; and, the Ralphs on steroids at the misnamed Village Courtyard overturned by the City Council. The historic record of the Planning Commission is to be WRONG on every important issue, now they have voted to overturn a decision of GPAC. How can they be so consistently wrong? Form Based Codes will not cure what ails them.

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