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By Kristina Pritchett and Matt Cortina
It might seem like Ballot Measures H and I were created solely to confuse the residents of Dana Point. With all the town hall meetings, signs posted around town, encyclopedia-length ballots, heated letters to the editor in the Dana Point Times, videos, court rulings—well, it’s OK to be confused. But in its best light, the back-and-forth between Measure H and Measure I supporters is democracy in action. So the DP Times met and spoke with the proponents and writers of each ballot issue to get the answer to this one simple question: What would it mean if either ballot measure passed?
In 2004, the city of Dana Point decided it was time to redevelop Town Center—the area between Pacific Coast Highway and Del Prado, and between Street of the Copper Lantern and Street of the Blue Lantern. It had long gone underdeveloped, and the city said it was hearing input from residents that it wanted a development plan.
The city initiated a planning process, which included hiring urban design consultants to study the area and make recommendations. It also involved creating a 15-member panel, called the Town Center Subcommittee, which was established by the City Council and included two city council members and one planning commissioner, among other residents and consultants.
Over the course of a year, the Town Center Subcommittee held 30 public meetings to get input into what residents wanted in the Town Center area and to share design elements as they emerged. The city mailed meeting notices to business and property owners in the surrounding neighborhoods to get their insight into the process—in all, over 300 newspaper articles were published in local papers.
And in June 2005, the Council adopted 10 guiding principles to use going forward with the Town Center development. Number One was to “Keep the family-oriented, beach community character of Dana Point.”
The city recognized that a “mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly environment” would encompass what they heard designers, developers and residents say they wanted. This included the creation of pedestrian courtyards, art features, centrally located public restrooms, safety buffers between sidewalks and roads, and more. It also called to make Del Prado and PCH two-way roads.
Also notably, the city recognized that “accessible and convenient public parking is essential to the health and the vitality of the Town Center.” The original plan said that “it is expected that the City Council would acquire land in the Town Center for a centralized parking facility(ies) funded by fees from new building construction and located in a parking district.” It laid out in policy that the city would, at least, create an off-street parking district, and would also provide “opportunities for shared parking” in the area—parking spots that users of multiple businesses and residences can use. It required developers to provide parking according to existing city code (more on that later) and allowed developers to create off-site parking to meet their parking requirements or pay to offset costs of creating their required spaces elsewhere, called in-lieu fees.
And the last major thing the original plan determined was the building heights in the Town Center area could not exceed 40 feet and three stories, measured from the level of the sidewalk at the midpoint of the front property line.
This ordinance, and all its plans, which totaled about $19 million, was passed in 2008, and received approval from the California Coastal Commission, which oversees land use concerns in the state’s coastal regions. But with the economy tanking, no action was taken for many years. But eventually the city felt enough momentum and economic vitality to go forward with the Town Center revitalization.
A development group called Majestic Partners submitted plans in July 2014 for a mixed-use project calling for the construction of 30,000 square feet of retail space and 111 residential units to be built on seven non-contiguous lots in the city’s downtown. It was the first example of the Town Center plan in action.
The Dana Point Planning Commission voted two members for and two against those plans, which included the construction of three elevator shafts that rose to higher than 55 feet and were required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to give access to the rooftop for disabled people. The building itself was 40 feet high, but the elevator shafts added 15-18 feet more height on top of the building. The Majestic plans also called for four stories of units on the side Lantern streets.
That tied Planning Commission vote (one member was not in attendance) meant that the plans were not passed. However, Majestic appealed to the City Council in 2014, which approved their plans by a 3-1 margin, with current Councilman Carlos Olvera and Assemblyman Bill Brough voting in favor. They stipulated that Majestic would have to pay in-lieu parking fees, in accordance with the Town Center plan, but Mayor Lisa Bartlett was the lone dissenter of the plans, citing concerns about a lack of parking.
(The Majestic project was then later acquired by the group Raintree Partners, and the development plans were modified and approved to include 32,500 square feet of retail space and 109 units.)
Then in 2015, the current City Council voted to amend the Town Center plan. The amendment changed the name of the Town Center plan to the “Lantern District” plan. But, to much more public outcry, the city also amended its parking regulations for new development. Those changes included the allowance of non-residential projects to pay fees in lieu of providing parking spots. For non-residential units, it required two parking spots per 1,000 square feet, which may be provided off-site. And for residential units, it required one spot per 2,000 square feet, with a minimum of one parking space per unit. That is reduced from the original Town Center plan, which called for the use of existing zone regulations, which called for four spaces per 1,000 square feet of commercial space, 10 spaces per 1,000 square feet for restaurant parking, and between 1.7 and 2.7 spaces for 1-3 bedroom residential units.
That’s a lot of numbers, but the point is it was the parking plan that the city devised after it had “punted” on in their original Town Center plan. The Majestic/Raintree project would be the parking plan’s first major test run.
But shortly after this passage, a group of citizens filed a petition to put a measure on the ballot that would revert many of the changes made by the City Council in that amendment, while also adding a number of new regulations. That ballot measure, now known as Measure H, garnered enough signatures and is now on the June 7 ballot.
After it appeared Measure H would go to voters, the City Council voted in February 2016 to put up their own ballot measure that essentially codifies the changes they made in September 2015. That’s Measure I.
Since, you’ve seen the signs and heard the speeches. No small chaos ensued when a court ruled to amend parts of Measure H supporters’ rebuttal to Measure I. There was a Hitler video.
But as it stands, there are three key issues on which the two ballot measures diverge. They are parking, building height and lawsuits. This breakdown is in no way exhaustive but features the key points we heard from both sides.
Measure H: Measure H would require new development to follow previous zoning regulations. A few of those were outlined above, but the zoning code includes specific requirements for many different types of buildings—hospitals, day care facilities, libraries, etc., which all have different requirements. Simply put: They require developers to provide more parking spots or pay for those spots with in-lieu fees than Measure I would.
Measure H would continue to allow in-lieu parking, and would require developers to pay $40,000 per space.
Measure I: Measure I marries the parking code approved by Council in September 2015 with the Town Center, now Lantern District, plan. That means the city will continue to seek shared parking spaces—they have acquired over 100 spaces that were previously private and made them public. The city says it has also gained a concession from Raintree that their development will include over 100 public parking spots.
It will also follow the guidelines for parking for new development outlined above, which includes that spots for retail development must be public.
Measure I would also call for the installation of valet stations where parking is a concern, and institute preferential parking zones (if approved by a given neighborhood) where residents can park for free with a sticker, and visitors would pay.
The city maintains that it has too much parking currently, citing a major parking study they contracted, and can institute a parking district when needed and can also look at creating a parking structure if the need develops.
For instance: Consider a hypothetical development project with 30,000 square feet of retail space and 100 residential units. Half the retail is restaurants and half is other retail. And 75 percent of the residential units are two-bedrooms, and the other 25 percent are one-bedroom units.
Under Measure H, that project would have to provide or pay for about 417 spots. Under Measure I, that project would have to provide or pay for about 235 spots. Some developers might think that Measure H’s parking requirement is cost prohibitive, while some residents might say Measure I doesn’t provide enough parking.
BUILDING HEIGHT AND STORIES
Measure H: Measure H would require the maximum height of any building feature to not exceed 40 feet, plus 42 inches for select items like machinery and chimneys. This includes the prohibition of elevator shafts that exceed 40 feet that give access to the roof deck.
In all likelihood, developers would have to choose between adding a third floor of living space or providing a roof deck, since elevator shafts can rise to 18 feet above the roof.
Measure H also calls for the instillation of story poles at prospective development sites, which would allow the public to see how high a project would be for 20 days ahead of a Planning Commission meeting where the project would be reviewed.
Measure H would also require buildings to only have three stories—units on the ground floor on the side Lantern streets would still need to meet height requirements of an 18-foot ceiling. This is because Measure H’s floor regulations apply to all of the Lantern District streets, while Measure I only applies to development units facing Del Prado and PCH.
Lastly, Measure H would require building height to be measured from the middle of the lowest and highest points on the entire lot—as opposed to the middle of the highest and lowest points of the property at the sidewalk level, which is the current stipulation. This would result in starting points that are both higher and lower than current regulations.
Measure I: The current Lantern District Plan regulations for building height would be confirmed. That would mean as long as the building itself stops at 40 feet, elevator shafts can rise above it. For instance, on the Raintree project, some estimates are that elevator shafts make up less than one percent of the total roof area. This would allow developers to create roof decks on top of three- and four-floor buildings.
The city found that buildings up to 60 feet in the Lantern District do not impede views, as found in a study by Focus 360.
Measure I would also allow the units on side Lantern streets to be stacked in four stories, allowing bottom floor units to drop from 18 feet to 10 feet, but the bottom floor must still be non-residential. The city says this would encourage businesses to rent those smaller units, and incur less cost.
Measure I would measure building height from the middle point of the property at sidewalk level. This, like Measure H, would result in varying heights.
Both Measure I and H call for the enforcement of at least a 10-foot setback for buildings on Del Prado and PCH, to prevent, in theory, the “canyon” effect—where streets appear narrow because of tall buildings on either side.
LAWSUITS AND BALLOT BOX ZONING
Measure H says “Any aggrieved person or Dana Point registered voter shall have the right to maintain an action for equitable relief to restrain any violation of this Act, or City failure to enforce the duties imposed on it by this Act.”
It is unclear, even to those in the city, how much litigation would be incurred by this inclusion. Currently, to lodge a complaint against development, a resident would need to attend all relevant hearings and log public complaints, according to the city. Measure H would possibly allow people to file lawsuits without going through that process.
City officials could not confirm how many zoning changes would occur under Measure H’s regulation. However, if Measure H passes, any zoning changes would have to go to a vote of Dana Point residents, at taxpayer’s expense, and then also have to pass through the Coastal Commission. This is typically called “ballot box zoning.” That said, the city’s current parking plan, which would be codified with Measure I’s passage, was delayed by the Coastal Commission until fall or winter 2016 in order to see how the ballot measures play out.
ONE LAST THING
Both measures need 50 percent of votes to pass, plus one extra vote. If both measures pass, the measure with the most votes will win. If both measures fail, then the city will continue with its current plan, which is essentially Measure I.