The policy direction from the council will allow the task force and city staff to move forward with completing a final draft of the updated Downtown Specific Plan (DSP) for further public review in the months ahead.
So, Mayor Jerry Thorne was quick to remind residents and fellow council members that Tuesday was not their only bite at the apple when it comes to the five topics or any aspect of the new DSP.
"We're not making final decisions tonight. What we're doing is giving feedback to the task force," Thorne said. "This thing will be wide open at least two more times, once when it comes to the Planning Commission ... and then it will come back to the City Council, wide open, to discuss anything you'd like to discuss."
The task force of city leaders, downtown stakeholders and other volunteers is winding down its two-year-plus process to update the policy document that outlines city rules and objectives for commercial, residential and public properties throughout the 307-acre downtown planning area.
The conversation was brought to the council early after city staff sought final policy direction on several key topic areas for which the task force contemplated recommendations that differed from its members' previous leanings and from the initial draft DSP document released in the fall.
The council hosted a three-hour-plus public debate on April 16 and settled on direction for key topics such as building height requirements, ground-floor residential and mixed-use sites. But with that meeting extending past midnight, city staff wanted to confirm those decisions with the council again, plus Councilwoman Kathy Narum wanted to revisit one of her votes.
The discussion Tuesday night saw council members go over each key topic area with city planning officials to affirm or modify their prior direction.
They also heard from a handful of speakers during public comment, exclusively on housing downtown -- with one outright opposing new multi-family residential, others asking for conservative growth and another urging as many new units as feasible given the housing shortfall.
When the matter returned to the council for deliberation, the majority mainly affirmed their April 16 decisions but did change their minds related to residential height and a proposed overlay label for the Shell station and Barone's restaurant sites.
The council opted to tighten the building standards for future development on downtown properties in the residential zone by stipulating that buildings be a maximum of two stories.
Before, the council preferred a 30-foot height limit in residential, with slightly higher possible to accommodate roof lines if the owner pursued a planned unit development application. But that could leave the door open for a three-story building pending city approval, so the council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to shut that out by establishing a two-story maximum. Thorne dissented.
The council majority left their April 16 direction on other building standards in place.
That included supporting the existing 40-foot-tall and 300% floor-area ratio (FAR) maximums for the commercial core area, a 36-foot-tall, two-story maximum with 125% FAR for the new "mixed-use transitional" zone, and 46 feet with three stories maximum and 300% FAR for the new "mixed-use downtown" district -- a zone that would apply only to the current Civic Center site and vacant city property across Old Bernal Avenue if voters support relocating the library and city offices to the Bernal Park.
The council also Tuesday affirmed its preferred ban on ground-floor residential on commercial properties fronting Main Street and in the "mixed-use downtown" zone.
In their other modification, the council majority changed course on the debate on whether to reassign two properties -- the Shell station parcel at Ray and First streets and the Barone's restaurant site on St. John Street -- to label them as open for possible residential, commercial or mixed-use redevelopment.
The proposed new label, which came after requests from the property owners, would not guarantee future rezoning and any final project application would still require a public development review process and environmental analysis, according to city staff. The move, though, would allow the owners to avoid applying for a specific plan amendment down the line and make it clear in city documents that those possible redevelopments are on the table.
Narum switched her position on the Shell site after talking with residents in the neighborhood near the gas station that is set to close soon with the tenant lease expiring. Neighbors, Narum said, supported the concept of potential multi-family residential on the property, as the owner is exploring.
The council voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Julie Testa in dissent, to allow the residential overlay label for the Shell site.
Narum, however, said she would not endorse the label for the Barone's site, which would leave open the possibility of full residential with no commercial on the property. Though Joe and Maricela Barone have said they have no plans to close their restaurant, they did ask the city for the residential overlay to keep their options open in the future.
The council voted 3-2 to oppose the residential overlay but allow the Barone's property to receive a "mixed-use transitional" overlay label, with Testa and Vice Mayor Karla Brown in dissent.
With the policy direction from the council now confirmed, the work shifts back to the task force to complete its final DSP draft. The last task force meeting, which is open to the public, is scheduled for May 28 pending confirmation of a quorum.
The final draft document would then be re-released to the public for review ahead of public hearings before the Planning Commission (likely early summer) and City Council (late summer or fall), according to city staff.
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