Coastal Commission approves specific plan for downtown Laguna after years of development

After years of planning and workshops, an updated plan that will guide growth, design and development standards for downtown Laguna Beach was approved by the state’s Coastal Commission in mid-December. .

The Downtown Laguna Beach Specific Plan was originally adopted in 1989 and has since been amended nine times, with its last full update in 2000 and its last amendment in 2018. The 2000 amendment expanded the boundaries of the paper at the Boys & Girls Club on Laguna Canyon Road and created the Civic Art District.

Work for the last comprehensive update began in 2012 and City Council passed the update in July 2020, but was unable to implement it until it received approval from the Coastal Commission.

Residents have passionately debated the pros and cons of some changes for years, with many worrying about the relaxation of parking requirements and fearing it would alter the town’s “village” characteristics.

City spokeswoman Cassie Walder confirmed Wednesday that the plan will not go into effect until the Laguna Beach City Council passes the commission-approved changes.

This first reading by the council is scheduled for January 25.

The changes mainly relax regulations surrounding new businesses in the city centre.

The scope of what the specific downtown plan impacts in Laguna Beach is described. It stretches from Laguna Canyon Road to the coast.

(Courtesy of the City of Laguna Beach)

Businesses will be required to have three parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of gross floor area for certain non-residential uses.

In addition, most uses in the area must now be authorized by law rather than conditional use permits, in order to streamline and reduce barriers to establishing new businesses downtown.

Conditional use permits will only be required for businesses that may impact their surrounding neighborhoods, such as bars, restaurants, live entertainment venues and souvenir shops.

Other changes include the reuse of public parking in the city center and changes to design guidelines criteria for new projects.

What has not changed are the provisions that would allow the replacement or reconstruction of structures that do not conform to their original height or that would specifically allow or favor the addition of a second story to historic buildings. It also doesn’t affect the city’s historic preservation program — also updated in 2020 — and maintains a list of properties that appear on the city’s historic register and those eligible for national and state indexes.

“Like everything in the COVID world, the Coastal Commission was saved, so it took us until [December] to be on the agenda with the Coastal Commission and we had a very good result [with] Coast Commission … because we had a very thorough public verification process on the downtown-specific plan,” Mayor Sue Kempf said during a recent episode of the city’s podcast.

The Forest Ave promenade in downtown Laguna Beach.

Visitors and residents walk the street at the Forest Boardwalk in downtown Laguna Beach. The area will also be impacted by updates to the Downtown Specific Plan, which was approved by the state Coastal Commission in December.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

“We worked there the Laguna way for eight years. We had over 20 planning commission meetings. I sat on the Planning Commission for five years and during that time I probably heard the changes to the Downtown Specific Plan—I don’t know—five or six times? said Kempf, who added that a commissioner recognized the degree of public participation the city garnered.

Kempf said the plan updates primarily address outgoing but strict parking requirements, where owners were required to provide one space for every 250 square feet of gross floor area for general retail and one space for every 100 square feet of raw floor. catering service usage area and authorization.

“The opportunity to do business in Laguna is tied to parking, which really makes us uncompetitive with other cities when there’s a business that might be appealing to residents and to…visitors as well,” Kempf said. “It will really help us.”

“I don’t expect it to be a big change, but in terms of attracting better businesses and businesses that are popular these days as we see a shift from retail to other uses. It will help us in the long run, I think,” she said.

The Forest Ave promenade in downtown Laguna Beach.

Shoppers walk past the Quiksilver storefront in downtown Laguna Beach.

(Don Leach / personal photographer)

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Aurora J. William