Commercial project review process stays the same

A proposed change in the design review of commercial projects was rejected Aug. 16 by the City Council after more than three prior meetings and a 40-minute hearing.

If approved, the proposal would have transferred jurisdiction from the Design Review Board to the Planning Commission for non-residential or mixed-use projects in specified zones outside of downtown.

"The bottom line is the status quo continues," said Liane Schuller, zoning administrator. "The board retains all design-review authority outside the Downtown Specific Plan Area unless the project, in any location, requires a conditional use permit, a subdivision or planning entitlements."

The change was supported by the commission and unanimously opposed by the board, whose members claimed they have the expertise to do the design-review job right.

Design Review Board Chairman Michael Wilson said the board had reviewed a couple of difficult projects in the Commercial Neighborhood Zone, one of the eight areas proposed to be placed under the Planning Commission's purview.

"The CN Zone had a couple of contentious projects, and we feel we handled it appropriately," Wilson said.

Board members Caren Liuzzi and Robin Zur Schmeide poke against the transfer at the meeting.

No planning commissioners attended.

"Three of us discussed it, and we didn't think it was appropriate behavior for us to go down there and lobby the council," Commissioner Anne Johnson said the next day.


Pros and cons

Councilwoman Verna Rollinger said she opposed the change in jurisdiction because she felt it would place too heavy a burden on the commission.

"My main concern has been the list of 30 projects we want the Planning Commission to do," Rollinger said. "Everything shifted to the commission takes the time of the commission and staff. There are a lot of things on the list that I would like to see them working on because they do a really, really good job."

However, local architects supported the transfer.

"I like the proposed change because it would streamline things," said architect Marshall Ininns. "If the Planning Commission can't do design review then we have made a terrible mistake in giving them so much power in the downtown, where the premier projects are."

The commission has sole jurisdiction over design, use and signs in the Downtown Specific Plan Area.

The Chamber of Commerce also preferred the transfer of jurisdiction.

"Consolidating a commercial application before one board not only makes sense, but it is fair," attorney Larry Nokes said on behalf of the chamber. "Why have applicants endure two separate application processes when they can cover all the issues with one board?"

A separate hearing will be held on sign review jurisdiction, which for now remains in the hands of the commission, regardless of location.

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