Consultant Kimley-Horn is recommending the Venice City Council give up some of its final decision making authority to staff and the Planning Commission.
That was just one of the concepts introduced Friday morning at a workshop on rewriting the city’s Land Development Regulations, or code. The rewrite of the city code is necessary to implement changes made last year in the city’s Comprehensive Plan which is required by law to be updated every seven years.
Its the plan that guides future development in the city and determines, for example, whether you can park your vehicle on a particular roadway, determines building height limits, and decides whether or not rooftop dining will be allowed in Venice, among thousands of other rules.
Kimley-Horn guided the city through the Comp Plan, which took three years. The city is hopeful the code overhaul will take less time.
Barry Snyder, chairman of the commission, and Kimley-Horn staff led the workshop Friday morning to introduce council members to key concepts they will be faced with after the commission finishes its review and rewrite. Numerous public hearings are being planned.
How high?Friday’s conversation focused on Mixed Use zoning districts, new to Venice.
One concept sure to draw attention is thinking about buildings in terms of stories, and less about how many feet high a structure is.
For the average three-story downtown building, Kimley-Horn and city staff are recommending a first floor with a height of 12-15 feet and upper floors that are 10-12 feet in height for the average three-story building. That’s a change of 4 additional feet compared to the existing maximum height of 35 feet.
Jeff Shrum, development services director, said architects suggested the change, driven by new market standards and practices, where bottom floors are typically higher.
Outdoor diningThey’ll also recommend no more encroachments onto city-owned rights of way. Most downtown restaurants currently use city ROWs for outdoor dining. Anyone renovating an existing building or constructing a new one in the area will have to move that off the city ROW for safety reasons into an “active use area,” like the outdoor seating at the Daiquiri Deck on West Venice Avenue which is set back from the roadway.
Rooftop diningAnother new concept is “habitable space.” Rooftop dining is the best example. A rooftop space would be considered a floor in the revised city code, and subject to building height rules. In other words, a building could have two stories, and also rooftop dining, which would be considered a third floor. A three story building could not have rooftop dining in the average downtown commercial building.
For the first time, environmental issues will have its own section in city code.
Expect more graphics to provide examples of what’s allowed and what’s not, said Shrum. It’s all designed to simplify and clarify what most consider a cluttered and confusing city code that in some instances doesn’t match the city’s Comp Plan.
Final decisionThe rewrite is expected to dramatically reduce the number of variances, waivers and special exceptions that currently flood staff and the Planning Commission.
But it was a discussion on taking some of the final authority away from Council for certain land development petitions that drew the most interest.
The consultant is proposing conditional use permits, height exceptions and variances that currently go before Council be left to the Planning Commission as the final review authority.
Likewise, preliminary plats and site and development plans, which currently go before the Commission, would be left to a city staff Technical Review Committee to decide.
Council already has final say on final plats.
Streamline the process“A lot of people want to streamline all these processes,” Snyder said. “The concept is, if the code is good then staff can make a lot of those decisions. We have a tradition of having multiple public decisions (being) made (at public meetings). Do you want to increase (that) or have less of them?”
Council Member Charles Newsom said refining the code should do away with many of the special requests.
“Some of the mind numbing meetings with attorney’s fighting each other is because the code isn’t specific enough,” Newsom said.
Council Member Helen Moore pointed out there’s nothing stopping an individual council member from giving their input to staff or other boards on any decision. And the city’s robust public notification and meeting schedules give the public plenty of opportunities to express their views.
AnxietyCouncil Member Bob Daniels said he understood why the recommendation is being made, but cautioned it could bring criticism.
“Moving forward, certain people will challenge you,” he said. “That you’re trying to practice deception. It’s a very sensitive topic with some people in this community.”
Council Member Mitzie Fiedler and Rich Cautero expressed their concern.
“I agree that building permits should be left with staff,” Fiedler said. “What I don’t agree with is some of the final decisions being left with the Planning Commission. If you’re (Commission) going to have final decision making on building height, you are not elected and are not accountable to the citizens.”
Council Member Rich Cautero said in addition to giving the Commission more authority, more reliance on staff will create more apprehension.
“I think it’s going to cause a lot of angst … shifting responsibility to the administrative level. That’s probably not something I’m going to agree with.”
“Be careful what you ask for,” said Newsom. “I don’t know that Council wants to hear every decision everybody wants to (bring forth).”
Commission Chair Snyder said two key factors are the quality of the code, and quality of staff who interpret the code.
The commission meets every two weeks, and the city code is on every agenda, he said.