Broader aspects of Village Entrance explored

Facilitator Delia Horwitz did her best to keep the audience focused on the proposed Village Entrance Project at a special workshop last week, but comments calling for an urban planner and answers to how peripheral parking might address traffic concerns cast the project as part of a larger citywide planning effort.

The City Council nixed the project's proposed parking structure at the Nov. 12 workshop, but kept the proposal for landscaping in the general area of the Lumberyard and Forest Avenue parking lots.

How Village Entrance plays into broader planning in Laguna Beach is not yet known, but City Manager John Pietig shared his thoughts after hearing from the public and council.

"We need new goals for the Village Entrance site that work in conjunction with other community objectives," Pietig said.

Possible community objectives include hiring an urban planner, undergrounding utilities, instituting off-season trolley service and addressing parking concerns, according to Pietig.

"We need to prioritize other community desires so they work with the Village Entrance, so we have some sense of order as we move forward," Pietig said.

Councilman Bob Whalen, Planning Commissioner Anne Johnson and commission Chairman Robert Zur Schmiede are members of a committee reviewing urban planners' proposals and talking with various applicants, Pietig said.

The committee received responses from four companies, including one from Laguna Beach, and met with representatives from each firm this week, Whalen said.

After the interviews, the committee will send requests for proposals that will specify what areas the committee wants an urban planner to focus on, according to Whalen.

One key area Whalen wants to focus on is the Downtown Specific Plan.

The policy and planning guide aims to protect a mix of architectural styles, small-scale buildings and pedestrian access in an area that includes downtown streets such as Forest and Ocean avenues, an area between Laguna Avenue and Sleepy Hollow Lane and some of Laguna Canyon Road.

"We really need to work on developing a master plan for parking and circulation that goes between downtown, Coast Highway and possibly includes Act V [parking lot]," Whalen said.

Whalen and Councilwoman Toni Iseman formed a subcommittee to look at undergrounding utilities along Laguna Canyon Road and possibly adding pedestrian and bicycle lanes along a portion of the state highway.

The city hired RBF Consulting to provide options and will return to the council at a future date, which Whalen hopes will be at the end of January or early February.

"We're still early on in the process," Whalen said. "Caltrans seems supportive of the pedestrian and bike lanes and is inclined to work with us on that."

Iseman and Councilman Steve Dicterow formed a separate subcommittee to investigate citywide utility undergrounding.

The council voted in September to request proposals from applicants "to evaluate the advantages in time and money of a citywide rather than piecemeal undergrounding project, with or without Laguna Canyon Road," according to a Coastline Pilot story.

The city had received proposals from two companies for citywide undergrounding as of Monday, Public Works Director Steve May said in a voicemail.

The next step would be drafting an agenda bill to gather public and council input to help identify priorities relating to the Village Entrance, Pietig said.

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