City aims for more timely decisions, greater care with large projectsLONG BEACH - The Long Beach City Council joined forces with the Long Beach Planning Commission to iron out changes in the city zoning code on Monday, Nov. 22.

They were also looking ahead, and anticipating the process of reviewing the city comprehensive plan and the Parks and Recreation Openspace Masterplan. City Administrator Robert Strope told the group that at some point it would be important to involve an expert in the process. He suggested the city should start budgeting for the process, and seeking out grants to help pay for it.

Interim Community Development Director Michael Davolio said he "strongly urges updating the comprehensive plan next year."

So far, the main focus of the code revision has been design review and clarifying definitions. The city staff is also examining ways to streamline the approval process for design review.

"Now, it's 45 days from walking in the door to council action," said Strope, "and that's not right."

In an effort to simplify and streamline the process, a three-tier system of approval has been suggested. Small projects, such as signs, could be approved by city staff. Medium projects could be approved by the planning commission without review by the city council. Large projects would still need planning commission recommendation and city council approval. Under debate is what constitutes a small, medium, or large project.

The city staff also suggested instituting a fee for the design review process. Currently there is no fee for submission of any sized project for design review. A two-tier level was suggested, with smaller projects costing $75 for review and larger ones costing $150. Davolio said a nominal charge would discourage frivolous submissions. He also said reviews of larger projects take considerable staff time to review, time that could be spent on other needed public projects.

"To what extent are you comfortable having the taxpayers subsidize the development community?" he asked the group.

Also under discussion was reviewing code in the S3 zones, or shoreline areas. Currently, the city has very little oversight of development in those areas. A trigger mechanism, based on the number of proposed dwelling units, was suggested. This issue has caused some controversy.

The city staff emphasized that this was not an effort to prevent large developments in those areas, but to ensure that it was done wisely. They said large developments could impact the surrounding communities, and a change in the code would allow the city to ensure that public infrastructure, such as roads, water, and sewage were not overburdened.

Davolio said a poorly planned development would result in local taxpayers paying to correct damage. Oversight, he said could actually help developers by limiting protests and lawsuits.

"Having gone through the process will elevate property value," he said, "by increasing public confidence."

Council member Fred Cook also saw some wisdom in creating an overview process.

"Is there any reason we should be in a big hurry to make a huge mistake?" he asked, a mild reference to some previous large developments that have occurred in Long Beach.

The discussion on the zoning code revisions will continue at the Dec. 1, city council meeting.

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