The four-day planning session to create form-based code for the Doheny Village Plan concluded Sept. 12
By Andrea Swayne
Opticos Design’s principal Dan Parolek presented the culmination of last week’s work at the conclusion of the Doheny Village Plan design charrette on Saturday, Sept. 12, at Capo Beach Church. Parolek presented more finalized drawings, representative of the combination of Opticos’ ideas and ideas brought by the public during the four-day program, to a crowd of about 75 people.
One thing that was evident, he said, is that the overarching guiding principal for the refinements made to the work previously done on the plan, is reinforcing the rich history and culture of the idea as the community evolves.
“That’s something we heard loud and clear from the beginning, from stakeholder interviews and people coming to the pre-charrette workshop,” Parolek said.
Opticos presented a new set of drawings every day of the charrette, posting them to the wall to begin “testing” in the court of public opinion and refining them for Saturday’s presentation.
“It’s really easy for someone to just go off and create a really beautiful drawing that hasn’t been tested, where the economics of it haven’t been looked at and how a street might work hasn’t been studied,” Parolek said. “These aren’t just pretty drawings. We’ve actually sat down with an economist to understand the economic viability of these ideas. We’ve talked with the property owners. We’ve understood the challenges that are inherent to these ideas getting implemented, and so a lot of them have been fine-tuned, based on that vetting over the course of the week … We hope that you see your ideas integrated into these concepts because this is ultimately your plan, not our plan.”
Creating a strong brand for Doheny Village is another principal Parolek said his team identified early on as important to the plan, in that it will help create a unique identity for the area.
The final plan presentation, he said, is an overall illustrative, 25-plus-year plan for complete build-out that also incorporates some smaller changes for more immediate impact.
Low-cost, high-impact projects—now part of a trend happening across the country—were lined out as a concept capable of creating a difference right away. Ideas such as using shipping containers or Airstream trailers to create music, food venues, shopping venues or beer gardens that both attract people to a community and give residents a place to hang out with friends and neighbors were presented.
“I know this first-hand because this happened in my neighborhood,” Parolek said. “There was a vacant lot along our main street and the owner put in a little food truck and some picnic tables and now it’s packed with people every evening, even in the cool climate in Berkeley. We think there are opportunities to do this throughout the project area. And as we jump into thinking about the regulations and rewriting the zoning, we want to make sure that there are no obstacles in place that would prevent these types of things from happening.”
Encouraging the “adaptive re-use” of the area’s existing structures is another concept reinforced to the Opticos team when researching other cities’ examples, such as The Lab in Costa Mesa, as an example of incorporating this idea into a plan for Doheny Village.
“There are some great opportunities for building new buildings but you can’t replace the character that exists in some of these old buildings; and there’s an organic way that a place like this can evolve that includes both new construction and adaptive re-use,” Parolek said.” I think that’s the way that we see this community evolving.”
The plan also includes a component encouraging the city and the community to work together to find a suitable location for a surf museum—a 5,000- to 10,000-square-foot facility as desired by the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center.
“There are a lot of places this could happen but we think the closer it is to Doheny Park Road the better, for visibility and to reinforce the evolution of that roadway.”
The team also noted a suggestion to start thinking about the possibility of having the surf museum share a structure with something like a microbrewery, as a revenue generating use that could help support the museum.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
The “bigger picture” concepts include the creation of vibrant districts within the area.
One such area would be an industrial arts district proposed for the area southwest of Doheny Park Road and Domingo, that will build on the area’s “maker culture”—people making things such as surfboards and coming up with new inventions. The district would include building types that would actively engage the street while allowing light industrial/fabrication uses. The area would also include simple and flexible industrial type spaces, following the national trend of microbreweries and wineries in similar areas.
“This is the one place we feel the evolution should happen on a fairly small scale, so that it doesn’t erode or compromise what’s there,” Parolek said. “The lots here are quite small so it’s likely that if we put the right rules in place we will get smaller improvements and new activities and buildings that would build upon that sort of gritty, creative culture and character in that location.”
Reinforcing Doheny Park Road as the “heart” of the village is another big picture item included in the plan. Parolek characterized this idea as hard to imagine now, as the thoroughfare has a high volume of cars traveling by at fast speeds, but with the proposed changes would be transformed into a more pedestrian-friendly street.
Two roundabouts—at the intersections where Victoria and Las Vegas cross Doheny Park Road—and the reduction of the road to one travel lane in each direction serve important functions in slowing the traffic down while maintaining the safe and efficient flow of roughly the same number of vehicles through the area. The transformation of the road would also include on-street parking, detached bike lanes and wide sidewalks.
“This is not an easy thing to do,” Parolek said. “We’ve thought very carefully about it and it’s passed the ‘fatal flaw’ analysis … put the drawings into a computer program to test (things like) truck turning movements. We feel very strongly that this type of progressive direction for the design of the street is necessary for Doheny Village, and in particular the small retail area, to achieve its full potential.”
Building a gateway into the area, integrating public art and looking at ways to evolve larger sites such as the Big 5 shopping center to eventually house more local, creative and smaller shopping uses, are also among the larger items in the plan.
Creating a complete neighborhood by integrating the various districts, at ultimate build-out, offering diverse housing choices, building new public spaces and taking a form-based approach to parking are also top priorities.
An important part of the plan, one stressed continually by the public, is the reintroduction of a school site to the area, in the land now occupied by the Capistrano Unified School District’s south bus yard.
Discussion has begun at the district regarding a possible performing arts magnet school for the area.
George Peterson, president of Project Dimensions, said his company has been hired to advise the school district on the project and has been meeting with the district and the city to discuss a number of alternatives for a school site there.
“We’ve been meeting with the city and the school district together to help facilitate the process, from the school district’s perspective,” Peterson said. “We’re talking about all kinds of alternatives. Nothing’s been set yet but there are a lot of interesting ideas. We’re still playing with the programming of it so we’re hearing many different concepts, from highest and best use to the possibility of a performing arts center; the city has talked about putting a park on it, things like that.
Bicycle and pedestrian linkages to the beach were also vetted. One popular idea that came out of the charrette was the possibility of a retrofit to add a protected bicycle/pedestrian path to the Pacific Coast Highway bridge over San Juan Creek.
And, of course, the subject of parking was discussed.
“I’m going to challenge this community, because I know you all like to debate about parking requirements,” Parolek said. “And unfortunately, like every other community, like debate about parking requirements in a vacuum and just like to talk about the numbers. It’s easy to get caught up in ‘no, we need two spaces per residence’ or ‘no, we need three per 1,000 square feet,’ without actually knowing what the impact of those numbers are. What we find, especially in a place like the industrial arts area, is if you have too high of parking requirements, nothing is going to happen.”
He went on to explain, in advance, the reasoning behind the upcoming writing of parking requirements to be included in the new code.
“As we go into drafting the form-based code … we’re going to be pretty progressive with the parking requirements because we feel it’s necessary to enable a lot of this to happen,” he said. “We have studied sites and know that if you require too much parking, it’s likely that not a lot is going to happen. I want to challenge you all to be open-minded, to work with us while we work on that … You need to decide what sort of place you want first, and then write a set of rules that will get you that place.”
Toni Nelson of Capo Cares, a resident organization focused on encouraging the improvement of the Capistrano Beach area of Dana Point, attended all four days of the charrette and on Saturday voiced her approval of the process.
“I think the plan is excellent and it’s a really good start,” Nelson said. “It encompasses the ideas of everybody in the community. It responds to the surfing heritage, reviews our rich historical past and what Doheny represents—room for the residential component, room for the industrial arts center. It really has something for everyone. And the truth is, despite a few little negative comments by people in the community, if we don’t change something, we will be doomed to the same ‘drive through’ Doheny Village, where nothing good is happening. Crime is increasing, we have loiterers and residents who aren’t comfortable walking down the street. We have to let it change.”
Slowing traffic down with roundabouts was one concept she stressed as making a lot of sense.
Cindy Kontoes, a resident of the Beachwood Village Mobile Home Park, said she too liked much of what was presented.
“Any improvement whatsoever to Doheny Park Road would be wonderful,” Kontoes said. “I do believe we need to have areas people can walk to and sit down for coffee and sandwiches and things like that. I see difficulty in the Doheny Park Road changes but I am all for the roundabouts because as it is now it’s very unsafe to cross the street and it would slow people down. Not enough people walk or ride bikes in the area because of safety reasons. As for the surfboard shapers, now they are in a very quiet area and I think they like it like that, so I’m not sure some would really be into being open to people stopping in and disturbing them.”
She did, however, agree that the temporary retail and industrial arts concepts would provide a “win-win situation” that would bring income to the area right away.
Resident Gregory Shields was also onboard with much of the plan, especially the public input, but expressed concern regarding housing for the elderly and low income residents.
“I find it very positive that there’s smart development ongoing, however, I am very pleased that there’s still community involvement and criticism because I think it takes a balance to get the right things to happen,” Shields said. “Listening to the community is vital. People talked about housing for low income and seniors and it is an important thing we can’t turn our backs on. There’s room for good development in the future but not for displacing people who have relied on living here and want to continue living here.”
Alice Anderson agreed, finding favor with seeing so many people engaging in the process.
“I think it’s great that so many people turned out to show an interest in something we’ve been trying to get accomplished for quite some time,” Anderson said. “The most important thing is to give people in the community a sense of place, which would be what we’d get in the end, if done properly. I hope it works out well.”
The plan will be presented to the Planning Commission and City Council for approval—an item on the city’s timeline set to be completed by December—followed by the completion of an environmental impact report (on the timeline for January 2016) and then presentation to the California Coastal Commission for approval by December of 2017.
Videos of all the presentations made to the public by Opticos during the charrette on the city’s website.