Modifications proposed to artist live-work ordinance

A moratorium on projects where artists live and work at the same site in Laguna Canyon could be lifted if the City Council gives final approval to a proposal by the Planning Commission.

The council gave preliminary approval at the May 1 meeting to modifications to the existing ordinance and recommended incentives aimed at providing affordable space for artists to live and work in the M1A and M1B zones in Laguna Canyon, the city's only industrial zones.

"This is a serious effort to keep emerging artists in Laguna Beach and to maintain and renew the synergy of the traditional art community," said Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson, who co-chaired the subcommittee with Commissioner Linda Dietrich.

The subcommittee held workshops with local artists, architects, contractors and art groups to craft changes to the existing, but moribund Artist Live/Work ordinance. Emphasis was placed on work space and ordinance name was flip-flopped to Work/Live to reflect the precedence over the ancillary residential component.

Recommended incentives to encourage construction of the units include reduced parking and greater density than otherwise permitted.

Consideration was given to allowing taller heights — at one point 48 feet was mentioned — for the units, but that created something of furor among those who had fought developers and entrenched city officials in the 1970s to pass an initiative restricting heights to 36 feet throughout the city.

The proposed draft does not include a modification of the height limit. The commission, which was united on the rest of the provisions and did not want to see the amendments stymied, voted in favor of the proposal in a 4-0 vote.

"If the height issue is only deferred, we will be back," said Arnold Hano, who was instrumental in the passage of the initiative. "We are a low-rise city — 48 feet is anathema."

Work/live projects will require a conditional use permit and tenants will need a new artist occupancy permit.

An Artist Review Panel also is proposed to ensure the units will be occupied by artists and their families. Once certified by the panel, an artist can submit tenant improvement plans to the city for permits. Fire Department and Community Development officials will review the plans for consistency with the requirements of the ordinance.

Sculptor and artist work/live developer Louis Longi, who was active at the subcommittee hearings, proposed adding student housing to the ordinance, supported by Laguna College of Art & Design President Jonathan Burke, but could not muster support for the proposal.

"The issue was discussed and specifically not included," Dietrich said. "Student housing is allowed in the Civic Arts District and there [are] incentives.

The industrial zones might not be the best place for them."

No new projects have been approved in the canyon since January 2011, when a moratorium was approved by council. With extensions, the moratorium could continue until Jan. 4 2012, unless the proposed modifications become effective.

A second reading of the ordinance is required for approval.

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