City planner tapped for overhaul of Downtown Specific Plan

City officials looked no further than City Hall for the right person to coordinate the proposed overhaul of the Downtown Specific Plan.

Principal Planner Carolyn Martin has been named project manager for the re-evaluation of a document that is revered by many as the savior of the distinctive character of the downtown. Her appointment eases concerns about hiring an outside consultant with less local expertise and it will save the city thousands of dollars.

"It is absolutely wonderful that someone in-house has been appointed who has the necessary background for it," said Anne Johnson, a member of the Planning Commission, which will have primary responsibility for the revisions.

"I don't see how an outside consultant could have done the job as well as Carolyn, who is careful, diligent and knowledgeable about Laguna."

Martin has been the planner on such complex downtown projects as the community/senior centers on Third Street, Alice's Court, the Lifeguard Headquarters on Main Beach and the remodel and preservation of Laguna Presbyterian Church.

"I am really excited," Martin said. "We don't plan to throw out everything, but we do want to provide modifications that will best serve the city."

The City Council had approved a $120,000 fee in the 2012-13 budget to hire a consultant to oversee the changes to the plan that would better fulfill public and private goals for the look and feel, as well as the function, of downtown Laguna.

"But we'd rather have somebody in-house work on it," said City Manager John Pietig, who is not averse to saving some, if not all, of the city's money approved for the consultant.

A portion of the $120,000 will be redirected for assistance on projects such as the Housing Element update, for which Martin will have less time while working on the Downtown Specific Plan revisions.

The specific plan was finalized after three years of effort by a task force in 1989, encompassing the area bounded by Legion Street to the south, Cliff Drive to the north, the ocean to the west and the Boys and Girls Club on Laguna Canyon Road to the east.

It sets the tone for the area, which was defined as "the village character," said Planning Commissioner Norm Grossman, who represented the Design Review Board on the task force.

He is pleased with the appointment of Martin.

"She knows the philosophy of the plan and its history," Grossman said.

The plan has had two major re-evaluations and several minor modifications over the years, Grossman said.

Potential revisions could include the expansion of the specific plan area to encompass the ACT V parking lot and city maintenance yard and the Laguna College of Art & Design, which the council has sent to the Planning Commission for consideration. The corresponding inland side of the roadway is not part of the proposal at this time, Grossman said.

"The first step will be a survey of the downtown," Martin said. "We will look at it with fresh eyes and see how the commission wants to proceed."

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