DOWNTOWN — The Planning Commission on Wednesday recommended a slightly modified Downtown Specific Plan for environmental review, paving the way for the City Council to finally take a stab at it.
The plan will dictate how Downtown develops over the next 20 years or more.
One of the adjustments is in the Ocean Avenue transition area, which planning commissioners suggested a bump of 0.5 in the floor area ratio (FAR) only if the project is at least 50 percent residential. FAR is the ratio between the total floor area in a development and the amount of the land that a building uses.
Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich said the board also recommended the environmental report study the “opportunity sites” not located on Ocean Avenue at City Hall’s recommended heights and density. City officials have suggested a maximum height of 120 to 135 feet for those sites. Opportunity sites are large parcels in the city that planners feel could support additional height and density in exchange for community benefits,
The opportunity sites located on Ocean Avenue include the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, the proposed Frank Gehry-designed hotel project and the Wyndham Hotel. Officials with the Fairmont and Wyndham have submitted plans to remodel their hotels. Gehry’s project is a 22-story luxury hotel, referred to as the “Ocean Avenue Project,” that includes 125 hotel rooms and 22 condominiums as well as two stories of ground-floor restaurants and retail.
At the meeting, where Commissioners Amy Nancy Anderson, Gerda Newbold and Jim Ries were absent, Himmelrich said the board recommended to city officials the idea that any project on Ocean Avenue require a development agreement, or a contract between City Hall and developers on what they can build in exchange for community benefits like affordable housing, daycare centers and meeting rooms.
“The great projects will come through,” Himmelrich said. “We want the great projects, we don’t want the bad projects on Ocean Avenue. We don’t want them anywhere, but we especially don’t want them there because it’s our face.”
City officials presented the board with a set of recommendations that had been revised since the prior Planning Commission meeting in July. For example, in the revised report, city officials recommended increasing the density of the opportunity sites with lower trip generating uses during peak hours.
“Last go around we had a recommendation that they could get up to a 0.5 increase in floor area ratio for those uses,” David Martin, director of planning and community development, said. “Now what we are saying is go to 1.0 and that’s just the idea we are studying in the environmental impact report, not necessarily the plan.”
Another of the adjustments included modifying the transit zone to include the area from Broadway to the north, Interstate 10 to the south, Third Street to the west and Lincoln Boulevard to the east to allow heights up to 84 feet and allow buildings to be more dense that are 50 percent or more residential.
Hank Koning, an architect who used to sit on the Planning Commission, said there should be increased density in the transit zone.
“I was heartened to see staff is starting to look at that issue,” Koning said.