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By Paul Hinman, Dana Point
As a longtime resident of Dana Point, I’ve seen my share of political battles and disagreements between various City Councils and residents. A certain amount of disagreement and challenge is appropriate and should be welcomed in the public forum. Unfortunately, the current council challenge to a bona fide citizens’ initiative concerning the Town Center (now Lantern District) Plan has brought council/citizen relations to a new low.
The 2008 Town Center Plan brought together hundreds of citizens and city officials who anticipated a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly, primarily commercial area with restaurants, shops and some residential and office use. Unfortunately, the first development to be considered, the Majestic Project, caused a huge public outcry because it contemplated four stories instead of three, added increased residential density and elevator towers up to 59 feet and drastically reduced parking standards. In a bold move, Councilmen Carlos Olvera, Steven Weinberg and Bill Brough overturned a Planning Commission ruling to cast the three votes required for approval. That project has now been resold to apartment developer, Raintree (Partners) and is moving forward, likely as rental units, and not condos.
A group of citizens called Dana Point Residents for Responsible Development were shocked by the council’s approval of the Majestic project and saw it as a developer giveaway that would create high density and parking issues that they felt would change the coastal village atmosphere of Dana Point. They got organized and put in countless volunteer hours walking neighborhoods to amass 4,200 signatures, and were successful in putting their initiative, Measure H, The 2015 Town Center Initiative, on the upcoming June ballot. Measure H is designed to put firm, three-story and 40-foot height limits on development, and requires existing parking standards to be preserved.
Instead of letting the ballot go to the voters for a straight yes or no vote, the council voted, on Feb. 2, to create their own competing initiative, now called Measure I. The council’s initiative proposed no new laws and only served to confuse voters at the polls, (especially with its name, “The 2016 Town Center Initiative and Public Parking Improvement Initiative”).
This is a classic David and Goliath story. Measure H was a truly grassroots effort, with volunteers and ordinary citizens working to preserve an ideal version of Dana Point. The council measure not only disregards the electoral process and citizens’ rights to literally “fight City Hall,” but it shows contempt for the 4,200 citizens who signed the citizens’ initiative.
In the coming weeks you’ll see signs saying, “Yes on H, no on I,” as well as, “No on H, yes on I.” Confusion will reign and Goliath may indeed triumph, and that will be a sad day for the citizens of Dana Point. Get informed; read the ballot literature; and be sure you know what you’re voting for or against. The nature and tenor of your town, including parking standards and types of development, will be largely determined by your votes on June 7. I urge you to vote yes on citizens’ Measure H and no on council Measure I.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Regarding the 58-foot height measurements allowed in the Majestic project: There were no height variances granted to the Majestic project. There are three elevator/utility shafts (one on each of three buildings) that measure 54, 57 and 58 feet. The Town Center Plan and building code, without variances, allow for elevators to provide ADA access to the rooftops. The elevator towers rise 14, 17 and 18 feet, respectively, above the 40-foot maximum building height. The towers take up less than 500 square feet (less than 1 percent) of the 70,000 square feet of roof space. Also allowed without a variance, is screening for rooftop mechanical equipment and rooftop perimeter walls, both at 42 inches. Regarding the four-story buildings: The areas of the project that have four stories contain four levels of residences within the 40-foot height limit and are the same height (40 feet, except for elevator towers, perimeter walls and mechanical equipment screening) as the three-story sections. The three-story sections will house 18-foot retail spaces on the ground level, topped with two stories of residential.