What kinds of businesses should be in Laguna's downtown? Planning commission takes up the issue Wednesday

The city of Laguna Beach hired an urban planning firm to help revise policies that affect development downtown, but leaders have indicated that they will not be rubber stamping the company’s recommendations.

Laguna Beach planning commissioners on Wednesday will consider suggestions from both city staff and MIG related to commercial uses in the downtown, an area that includes Forest and Ocean avenues and Broadway Street.

The meeting is one in a series of discussions as Laguna works through six sections of its downtown specific plan, a document meant to guide development.

While the city said in a staff report that some of MIG’s proposed amendments are relevant because certain information is outdated, staff did not see eye-to-eye with some of the firm’s suggested policy changes.

MIG recommended combining two districts currently reserved as commercial and resident-serving, respectively, into one to allow flexibility in the types of uses, the staff report said.

City staff agreed there should be flexibility in locations and types of uses, but said they had concerns wth getting rid of the “resident-serving” distinction because they wanted it to be clear the city would not lose focus on meeting the needs of residents, the report said.

An ad hoc committee of unidentified residents suggested keeping the resident-serving district, but reduce its coverage area to the upper end of Ocean Avenue between Beach Street and Forest Avenue, according to the report.

City staff said the committee’s recommendation may be more appropriate because the area currently has resident-serving businesses such as a medical clinic, a shoe and leather repair store, an art supply store and cafes.

City staff agreed with MIG that a streamlined permit process to open a business would be beneficial but had concerns about incorporating the current process of obtaining a permit administratively, according to the report.

An administrative permit does not require a hearing but staff said in some cases it takes longer than the process to obtain a conditional use permit, the report said. In addition, an administrative use permit can be appealed to the City Council without Planning Commission review.

As part of the plan update, MIG interviewed property owners, leasing agents, and business managers who said there is a perception that Laguna is a difficult place to do business, the city’s report said.

MIG suggested certain types of businesses should need an administrative instead of a conditional use permit such as ice cream stores, bakeries, pet grooming and supply stores and bookstores, according to MIG’s report contained within the larger city staff report.

City staff suggested another type of permit specifically for downtown commercial uses that are not proposing an increase in square footage, and MIG should develop specific criteria to determine eligibility for administrative approval, the report said.

The planning meeting will be held 6 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 505 Forest Ave.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce

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