Council moves to amend General Plan

In a move that has already rankled local developers, the City Council last week took the first steps toward adding language to the General Plan that may significantly diminish the size and scale of future commercial developments.

Planning Department officials say the General Plan and the city’s interim zoning ordinance are in conflict over the permitted level of density in commercial developments.

The General Plan allows a floor-area ratio — the size of a proposed development relative to its lot size — between 20 and 25 percent. Developers are permitted a 20 percent FAR, but they may up that amount to 25 percent if they provide a benefit to the public, such as a donation of land.

The zoning ordinance, however, only permits a maximum FAR of 15 percent.

The planning staff originally proposed amending only the zoning ordinance as a way to cure the inconsistency between the ordinance and the language of the General Plan. But after discussions with Mayor Walt Keller and City Attorney Christi Hogin, the planning staff, just prior to last week’s meeting, proposed an alternative solution that has developers up in arms: amend the General Plan so that it is consistent with the zoning ordinance’s maximum FAR of 15 percent.

Councilman Tom Hasse, who was credited with spearheading the effort to eliminate the conflict between the plan and the ordinance, said he has wanted to see the discrepancy fixed since his days on the Planning Commission.

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But Ed Niles, who is serving as the architect for the Malibu Bay Company project proposed for the Chili Cook-off site, expressed suspicion about the council’s motivation for changing the General Plan.

“If your intention is to designate and reduce the density of the Chili Cook-off site, then I’d like to know,” he said, his voice filled with anger. “If that’s your intention, then you’re wrong.”

Hasse emphatically denied any “sinister” motivation, and he said his actions had nothing to do with the Bay Company.

“For once, Malibu Bay Company is not even within my thought processes,” he said.

If after public hearings, the council votes to change the FAR within the General Plan to 15 percent, local developers are not likely to take the matter lying down.

Representatives of the Bay Company and the Adamson Companies waited through most of last week’s very tedious meeting to hear the council take up the agenda item.

Grant Adamson, whose hotel project is under review by the planning staff, said Planning Director Craig Ewing has assured him both orally and in writing that only the FAR within the zoning ordinance would be amended to cure the inconsistency.

“We’re nearly three years into a very expensive application process that we never would have bothered doing at a FAR of 15 percent,” he said. “We can’t make it work at 15 percent.”

Niles, who helped draw up the General Plan, said it specifically states that it is “the governing body” over the city. If a local ordinance conflicts with the plan, he said, then only the ordinance could be changed. “The legal implications here are unbelievable,” he said.

Under state law, changes to a plan must be “in the public interest” to either cure a problem or to reflect a change in the philosophy of the community.

Hogin told the council that if only the zoning ordinance were amended, the change would not apply to proposed projects already being reviewed by the planning staff. But she said she preferred not to comment on whether a change in the General Plan would apply retroactively to development plans under review.

“The General Plan is a whole other matter which will take a little more careful thought,” she said.

While the council voted unanimously to direct staff to propose amendments for the General Plan and the zoning ordinance, Keller, with the apparent agreement of Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn Van Horn, said the council would not really be changing the General Plan, but merely clarifying it if the FAR was specified as 15 percent. He asserted that the plan provides, by implication, a FAR of 15 percent, and only permits a bonus density of 20 percent if the developer provides a public benefit.

“The General Plan, as it stand now, infers [15 percent], but doesn’t spell it out,” he said. “And that’s why we want to talk about clarifying it; we’re not changing it, we’re clarifying it.”

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