LONG BEACH - Updating the Long Beach zoning codes was once again the main topic of conversation at the Long Beach Planning Commission meeting on Monday night.
The last time the zoning code was updated was 1988. Interim Community Development Director Michael Davolio has been working closely with the planning commission and the city council to clarify and update the language in the code, as well as making sure the codes comply with state and federal regulations.
Several members of the public attended to give their input into the process.
Davolio first gave a brief overview of some of the proposed changes. He emphasized that there would be no changes to the permitted densities or the zoning map. He said the main goal of the changes was to clean up ambiguous language and streamline the process. Any major changes to the zoning code would require changes to the city's comprehensive plan.
He also emphasized that no project submitted before the zoning code changes are finalized would be affected. For those projects, the current zoning codes would apply.
One of the changes that sparked some controversy was a suggested change in the S3, or Shoreline Resort District. The current wording of the zoning code allows "itinerant condominiums" as a "permitted use." In other words, a developer can build as much as they like without any city oversight or public hearings.
The suggested change would allow "itinerant lodging up to nine lodging units." Developers could still submit plans for larger developments, but the plans would then be considered "conditional use," subject to approval by the city and possible public input.
Gary Baker, a builder and developer, strongly objected to the suggestion.
"It is restrictive," he said. "Property rights would be in the hands of the city and not the property owner."
He said the S3 district is zoned for high density, and the change would conflict with the Shoreline Master Plan and violate the law. Baker had also made similar statements during the city council meeting on Nov. 3, and City Administrator Robert Strope advised the council not to comment based on accusations of illegality until legal council could be consulted. The planning commission decided to follow the same advice, and delay comment.
However, Davolio said that in all Washington cities he had worked in, "I have never, ever seen a community that allowed unlimited development without some form of oversight."
Another suggested change was the removal of references to condominiums in the zoning code.
Leslie Brophy asked for clarification on why the word might be removed.
Davolio explained that the term "condominiums" caused confusion because there are two uses for the term. Commonly used, the term often refers to apartment-like structures, but legally, the term refers to a type of property ownership where several parties jointly own some portions of the property and portions of the property are individually owned.
"We ought not to be in the business of regulating land ownership," he said.
Helen and Don McDaniel of Astoria, who own undeveloped land in the area, felt they had not been properly notified about the zoning code review, and wanted to know what effects the changes would have on their property values.
Long Beach business owner Michael Burg also wanted to be sure any interested parties had a chance to comment on the proposed changes before they became permanent.
"This process is going way too fast," he said. "It's allowing too many possibilities of lawsuits."
Commission member Diana Tehrani tried to reassure him.
"This is a draft," she said. "It's not even a proposal."
The planning commission agreed that there would be further discussion, and decided to continue the hearing for further debate and public input to Nov. 22, at 5 p.m. The planning commission hopes that meeting will allow them to make recommendations to the city council, so the zone code revisions can be reviewed at the Dec. 1 city council meeting.
Copies of the zoning code revisions are available at the Long Beach City Hall for public review. Interested parties are encouraged to pick up copies and attend the planning commission hearing on Nov. 22.