Artist live-work moratorium OKd

City planners were given more time on Tuesday to study artist live-work project criteria.

The City Council approved a request from the Planning Commission for a moratorium on artist live-work projects. The moratorium, approved as an interim urgency ordinance, was requested to allow commissioners more time to address their concerns that some proposed projects do not meet the stated intent of the city's general plan and zoning ordinance, but the council exempted six projects already in progress.

"We did not look at a particular project," Commissioner Linda Dietrich said. "We haven't seen any projects."

However, the six exempted projects included projects commission members found worrisome, according to two commissioners.

Before the council voted, Dietrich said the moratorium would allow the commission to determine what the city wants or needs in Laguna Canyon, which is zoned for light industry and where many artists have studios.

"And we need to define artist for the purposes of artist live-work," Dietrich said. "A poet does not need space in the canyon, but John Siemens, who does big beautiful pieces, needs the space."

Urgency ordinances are good for 45 days and renewable.

"This could go on for three years, and I don't like that," said Councilman Kelly Boyd. "I want to light a fire under the commission."

Sculptor Louis Longi's live-work project was among the six exempted from the moratorium by the council. His project differs from others because he proposes to build rental units to accommodate artists who cannot afford to buy a unit. His submittal was deemed incomplete with further work requested.

Then Mother Nature intervened.

"For the last nine days, I can tell you nothing has been done," said Longi, whose home and studio in the canyon were flooded on Dec. 22.

The council exempted Longi's project and five other incomplete submittals because time and money had already been invested in projects that the city has encouraged.

"We have been begging people to do artist live-work projects for 10 years," Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson said. "I think it is difficult to change the rules on people who have already made an investment."

Architect and former Design Review Board member Horst Noppenberger said the city should not make it more difficult or expensive to build artist live-work projects.

"I recently went through the process for a three-unit project — much smaller than Louis' beautiful project and the experience was extremely daunting," Noppenberger said. "We were unable to build the project because in-lieu fees were more than $300,000. I ask you not to put on a more restrictions on these projects because the process is arduous enough already."

Staff and the commission were directed to proceed with the study of the zoning regulations for the establishment of artist-live work projects in the city.

The council will review what the commission has accomplished at the end of the first 45-days of the moratorium and decide whether to approve an extension.

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