A drumbeat of public sentiment has had an impact in the Southeast Area Specific Plan (SEASP), and Development Services staff will recommend a reduced intensity alternative to the Planning Commission.
Staff and consultants with Placeworks have spent nearly two years preparing a replacement for the 1977 SEADIP (Southeast Area Development and Improvement Plan) land use master plan. The process has been underway for almost four years, since the city received a $929,000 grant in June 2013 from the state Department of Conservation to do the update.
Since then, there have been dozens of public meetings, some with a 22-member Community Advisory Committee. Tonight, Thursday, there will be a final study session with the Planning Commission before an expected hearing and vote on June1.
That hearing will be for recommendations to the City Council for approval of the SEASP as well as certification of the Environmental Impact Report. That final report was delayed when comments convinced the consultants to change and recirculate the traffic element of the EIR.
Traffic also is cited in the staff report for tonight's meeting as the reason for recommending the reduced intensity alternative.
"No issue was more debated or controversial during the development of this Specific Plan than the issue of traffic," the report says. "Traffic through the Second Street at PCH intersection operates at peak periods with a failed level of service today and will operate during peak periods at a failed level of service in the future, regardless of whether this Specific Plan is approved…
"The EIR evaluated a range of alternatives and includes responses to comments received by the public and other government agencies. The vast majority of the comments related to traffic. In light of that input, staff recommends adoption of the reduced intensity alternative. This alternative would allow the same form of development presented in the draft Specific Plan but would place a development cap."
In the reduced intensity alternative, there would be a modest increase of dwelling units in the area from 4,079 estimated now to 6,663 at buildout. That compares with 9,518 under the proposed project alternative. There also would be a reduction in allowed commercial development and hotel rooms.
Building height was another matter. While there were a number of comments opposing anything higher than the current three-story or 35-foot restriction, the report says that would be detrimental to improvements in the area.
“An increase in height is absolutely necessary to achieve the community vision, to deliver a mix of uses, buildings and public areas to enhance the area and to improve mobility within and through the area,” the report says.
According to the report, multifamily residential buildings need to be a minimum of three stories, and more typically four stories, to be viable. Mixed-use buildings start at four stories and often require five to spur development. Hotels may require up to seven stories, the report concludes.
"Height is necessary not only to recoup development costs but also to enhance site planning," the report says. "The taller a building is, the more ground area that is available for public plazas, paseos, landscaped areas and other amenity space."
The fate of the Los Cerritos Wetlands is the third most mentioned concern. The Specific Plan addresses that by limiting any development to existing paved and developed sites, leaving all of the existing wetlands and habitat areas available for restoration. There also would be a new impact fee to go toward restoration and monitoring of wetland areas.
One of the primary traffic mitigation proposals, connection of Shopkeeper Road from Second Street to Pacific Coast Highway (including an isolated section of road currently called part of Studebaker Road), follows that principal by staying on already paved areas of the Marketplace shopping center. New buildings will be required to maintain setbacks as well as adhere to bird-safe treatment of glass and other surfaces.
The study session will follow the Planning Commission's regular agenda, which includes approval of a seven-story mixed-use development downtown, conversion of a billboard to electronic display and a revision to the local coastal program to permit some urban agriculture uses. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall.
Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.