There were 33 items up for discussion at the Aug. 2 Planning Commission meeting and while there was plenty to talk about, nothing was actually up for a vote yet.

The Commission held preliminary discussions on policy issues that have arisen since adopting the Zoning Ordinance in 2015. Many of the items presented by Principal Planner Tony Kim were minor clerical changes, but some items spurred debate among the Planning Commission.

The commission was asked to reconsider the limit on skylights, currently at a maximum of 12” above the roof, to be five feet. Staff said the recommendation came from the public.

Commissioner Leslie Lambert had no problem with the update. However, Commissioner Nina Fresco said she was not comfortable with a 5 foot maximum.

“This is not downtown,” she said.

Commissioner Richard Mckinnon said 12 inches is restrictive.

“If we’re looking at energy efficiency, we need to go above 12 inches. It could be 30 inches, I’m not sure what the right level is but I’m open to the change,” he added.

The new skylight limit would apply to all buildings.

The commissioners also looked at affordability levels for Tier 2 projects. Commissioner Lambert said the city had overproduced at the extremely low income level proposed that the commission look at the subject in a much broader context.

“We discovered with the (Downtown Community Plan) that they have the ears of the council,” she said. “We should put this over again for a more broad discussion on affordability in general.”

Commissioner McKinnon agreed and Chair Amy Anderson recommended a joint meeting with the Housing and Planning Commissions.

Discussion of item #18 sought to clarify that a nonconforming use may be allowed in a City-Designated Historic Resource, “only if the nonconforming use was the predominant use at the site when it was in operation.”

The concern was that the current policy left landmarks “open to abuse.”

“We can’t tell people what use they have to do, all we can do is tell them what use they can’t do,” Fresco added.

The concern was with wording that takes advantage of the way a space was originally constructed. If a space was originally constructed as a movie theatre and is now in an area where there would not be a movie theatre it could actually incentivize having a movie theatre.

Staff said it’s a tricky balance of not wanting to penalize people with legitimate projects in historic districts but also not wanting landmarks to be abused and converted office spaces. Ultimately, the wording is going to be left alone, according to Principal Planner Tony Kim.

Item 25 determines whether bike parking should be allowed on the public right-of-way instead of on private property. Commissioner Mckinnon said it’s unacceptable to have bike parking on public right of way.

“Our job is here to try and improve multimodal ways of transportation,” he added.

Some believed buildings need to provide more bike parking.

“I think that especially for buildings trying to retrofit, bike parking is really important,” Commissioner Fresco said. She also added having bikes on the street is enticing.

Removing some car parking was discussed, so as to spread bike parking. Ultimately the goal is to encourage buildings to provide bicycle parking on site and discourage public right of way bike parking.

“The more we spread the bike parking the more people see it,” Commissioner McKinnon said, hoping for a plan for bike parking that would increase biking in the City where he and other Commissioners said there isn’t enough.

Kim also said staff is looking at increasing the size of secondary units on a property, upon suggestion from the Planning Commission.

The meeting also examined at which the point in a remodel or expansion of a single family home, should the owner have to bring their parking up to code. As of now, if the addition is more than half the size of the existing house, then parking has to come up to code. But sometimes people have to widen their driveway when there is no room, and end up demolishing their house entirely.

The big picture is to encourage keeping older homes and not tearing them down to have more room for parking. Staff is exploring possibly relaxing the standard at which owners have to bring everything up to code, but it requires further discussion.

The discussion this month was designed to solicit feedback from the Commission in advance of changes heading to the Council. Kim said he thinks the changes will be brought to Council early next year.

editor@smdp.com

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