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UPDATED: 3-Story Ban Causes Argument; Decision Postponed

The San Clemente Planning Commission postponed their recommendations on urban planning issues after more than four hours of public hearing.

The Planning Commission postponed its decision on whether to recommend a three-story building ban in San Clemente's downtown area after more than four hours of heated commentary from the public.

Several were in favor of keeping the current process in place, which demands rigorous architectural review before landowners can add a third story.

A faction led by the demanded the ban be enacted, saying over-development would destroy San Clemente's unique character.

The comments from the public became heated at times as more than three dozen residents spoke on the matter. The speakers were about equally split for and against the ban, and Planning Commissioner Lew Avera said the commission also received numerous emails and dozens of comments on the issue.

Georgette Korsen of the Historical Society said they had collected hundreds of signatures on a petition in support of the proposed ban.

Jeff Hook, the city's principle planner, told the Planning Commission that the current zoning for the downtown area is designated Mixed-Use 3. A few lots more than 12,000 square feet are allowed to add a third story up to 45 feet without a conditional use permit as long as the building contains both residential and commercial uses.

The other properties have to obtain a conditional use permit from the city to add a third story. According to Hook, every substantial improvement to any building in town must undergo an extensive design review process. That process is an adequate check to over-development, said opponents of the ban.

Since these guidelines were put into place 18 years ago, there have been six three-story projects throughout the city.

But Mike Cotter of the Historical Society said that control wasn't enough to prevent "canyonization" of downtown streets, destroying their "human scale" as apparent in development in downtown Huntington Beach.

"More three-story buildings would forever impact the feel of the downtown even if they were designed by the best architects," he said.

Michael Luna of the South Orange County Architects Guild disagreed. He pointed to design guidelines that encouraged architects to set back upper stories and open courtyards, allowing architects the flexibility to break up masses and create more attractive structures within the Spanish colonial revival aesthetic.

Architects from RSM Design based in downtown San Clemente spoke on behalf of the Commercial Property Owners Association of San Clemente opposing the ban.

"A homogeneous two stories throughout San Clemente would do a disservice to the village character," said RSM's Harry Mark in a video presentation.

Chris Hamm, who is running for one of two San Clemente City Council seats up for grabs in November was in favor of the ban. He criticized opponents who said restricting height would stymie re-investment in property downtown.

"I think we have plenty of examples of small buildings on Del Mar... that are successful and have penciled out," he said.

Opponents of the ban uniformly pointed to the renovation of what was the Coronet building on the corner of Del Mar and Ola Vista. It now has a tower element and houses and The restaurants.

They also pointed to various three- and four-story buildings from the 1920s era of town founder Ole Hanson, whose presumed vision was repeatedly evoked in supporting both sides of the debate.

The Planning Commission will take up the debate and make a recommendation at their next meeting, 7 p.m. Sept. 5 and make a recommendation to city council. That body would ultimately have to approve any ban to make it official.

The commission meets in , 100 Ave. Presidio.

Lindsey Hanson August 30, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Probably just means the council will make the decision when the public is not involved. Those kooks don't make decisions based on the public's interest. Time to elect some new officials. If this change passes there is only one driving force....GREED!
steve hopper August 30, 2012 at 04:46 PM
It's interesting that the El Ranchito building was touted as an example of a successful 3-story building, but it is, in fact, a 2-story building with a tower feature on the corner. To me, that still counts as 2-story building. Yes it is on a slope with a parking garage on the backside, but it is still only 2-stories along Del Mar, its feature elevation. Not a good example advocating 3-stories.
GreenInOC August 30, 2012 at 10:55 PM
@Steve, the remodel of that building is, in my opinion, AWFUL! It is too large for the space (it encroaches on the sidewalk) and even though the Cornet building was also 2-story it did not obstruct the view like the eyesore that is there now does.
Georgette Korsen September 01, 2012 at 09:49 AM
The San Clemente Historical Society had well over a 1000 signatures the evening of the Planning Commission meeting, and have more now. The city received only 2 letters in favor of MU3s (Mixed Use, 3 stories) in the downtown, but received 16 in support of the 2 story limit in the heart of the downtown (Del Mar and top of ECR in the T-Zone focus area). The speakers for the 2 story limit out numbered the property owners who spoke by aooroximately 30%.
Raad Ghantous September 02, 2012 at 07:21 PM
This discussion is right on schedule and has been experienced by a number of communities up and down the coast with unique character and historic downtowns or more accurately here village character and center. Often this community based discussion is triggered by a General Plan update or such exercise so for any opposing this current and timely free speech and democratic discourse and discussion I suggest they might want to allow for this most basic of American patriotic pillars to take place and avoid the name calling and mud slinging. There is an old saying that states "Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones". Lets just say that it is in the best interest of the community and not just for those few who may stand to benefit financially that San Clemente be given a chance to honestly and openly define its future course. If the dirt and the mud slinging and slandering intensifies one thing is for sure....ALL SIDES will be marked and mired by the ugliness to follow and the effect of that will last a lot longer than the issue at hand being debated.

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