Decision on Zoning Conundrum Delayed

The City Council last week balanced the concerns of business property owners with those of residents opposed to condo-like development in San Marino’s commercial district, as it put off until at least Sept. 14 any untangling of disparities between the city’s General Plan and its zoning map.
That means a moratorium on development of several properties along Huntington Drive will be allowed to lapse this weekend, exposing the city to at least a faint risk that one of the property owners will take steps to get high-density residences built. But the council received assurances from a lawyer representing the property owners that none had designs to do so, and City Attorney Steve Dorsey ventured the opinion that “the likelihood of any real problem is very small.”
“I see this as a prudent action,” Dorsey continued.
Many of the business property representatives attending the meeting urged the council members to put the matter off until the September meeting, when there is a greater prospect of all council members being present. (Only three attended last week, as Vice Mayor Dr. Richard Sun and Councilman Richard Ward were absent.) The delay would also provide time for devising new solutions to a long-running quandary.
San Marino has been wrestling with the issue for two years. Six properties on Huntington Drive are zoned residential but have been operating as office or professional buildings for decades, because of the long-ago issuance of use variances. The city’s General Plan, however, lists them as being for commercial uses.
The council last week was considering an amendment to the General Plan that would have deemed them residential properties, but with the use variances in place to enable them to continue being dental offices, professional offices or the other commercial operations that exist there now.
This action would have blocked a developer from proposing a high-density cluster of dwellings, which is allowed in San Marino on land that is zoned commercial.
The property owners howled, though many seemed to misunderstand the course the council was considering. Several voiced their objection to “zoning changes,” and argued that their businesses on bustling street corners would be unsuitable for single-family homes.
That wasn’t what the council was considering. “There is confusion about the zoning and the General Plan,” Mayor Dr. Allan Yung said at one point. “The zoning will not change.”
Neither would the current use, Councilman Steve Talt said, adding, “It just means it will be zoned residential with a commercial variance for all these properties.”
Some owners and representatives, however, have voiced concern about diminished value of the properties should they attempt to sell them.
The solution could be to rezone the properties commercial, but with qualifying conditions that would prevent condo development or the operation of certain types of businesses. Another option is an overlay zone. By not amending the General Plan, the council left the door open to any number of possible remedies.
The decision to continue the matter to September, and let the moratorium expire, was helped along by the assurances of Kristina Kropp, a lawyer representing six property owners. She said no owners planned to develop their properties residentially and that even if one did, none could get very far in the approval process before Sept. 14.
She expressed hope that a “win-win solution” could be reached as a result of the delay. The council agreed on a 2-1 vote, with Yung dissenting.
Motorists driving north on San Marino Avenue and wishing to turn left onto Huntington Drive will soon have more room to do so. The council approved a compromise plan that will extend the left-turn pocket by 45 feet, accommodating two more cars.
The original proposal, considered by the council on March 9, would have extended the pocket 100 feet, allowing room for 4-5 more cars turning left. But that proved problematic on a couple of levels. To begin with, it would have wiped out the three parking spaces along the east side of San Marino Avenue, near the police station. The council didn’t want to discourage visitors to the police station, particularly elderly ones. Also, the left-turn lane would have extended through a “keep clear” area in the street, potentially making it difficult for officers going on calls to get out of their parking area behind City Hall.
The council ultimately approved what police Commander Aaron Blondé termed “a healthy compromise.” One of the parking spaces near the police station will be removed, but two will remain. And the new left-turn pocket will stop short of the police driveway.
Thirteen citizens and officials were named to an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee that will be charged with developing a safety plan for motorists and pedestrians along Huntington Drive.
The 10 citizens named to the committee are Paul Brassard, Bob Houston, Crandal Jue, Jenna Latt, Catherine Liu, Jonathan Liu, Steve Morgan, John Morris, James Okazaki and Mary Ulin. The three government representatives are Liz Hollingsworth (school district), Mark Phillips (fire) and Richard Ward (police).

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