Commission approves council’s Village Entrance plan—with caveats

By BARBARA DIAMOND

If the City Council expects the Planning Commission simply to rubber-stamp the Village Entrance project and budget approved by the council on Dec 5, it will be disappointed.

The commission approved on Wednesday, as recommended by city staff, a conditional use permit, design review and coastal development permit, without which the project could not move forward. 

“We had a mandate from the council to move the project along,” said Commissioner Anne Johnson. “We were mindful that if the project didn’t get started next September, it would have to be put off for a year.”

Subcommittee created

However, the Commission expressed concerns about several aspects of the proposal and voted to create a sub-committee to work with staff and the project design team to ensure that commission recommendations do not get lost in the translation. 

“This is a big project and the planning commission should feel good about what we recommend,” said Commissioner Sue Kempf.

Commission Chair Susan McLintock Whitin and Commissioner Roger McErlane were appointed to the sub-committee. 

Whitin is on record as critical of the look and feel of the proposal, which she said connects to neither a Laguna Canyon nor a Civic Arts District identity. 

“It doesn’t feel rustic to me and it doesn’t feel artistic,” said Whitin. 

Commissioner Ken Sadler weighed in on the use of corrugated metal as a design element, a nod to the old metal buildings previously on the site and ready to fall down, he said.

“Rusty and rustic are not the same thing,” said Kempf. 

Both commissioners were referring to rusted corrugated panels proposed as facing for a retaining wall. 

Proposed lighting also found no favor with Sadler. 

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Close-up of Digester building within the proposed Village Entrance project

Plans call for 60 poles to meet legal requirements. Project Manager Wade Brown informed the commission that the proposed lighting is the minimum required for safety. He said putting in bollards, as had been suggested, would make the park look like an airport runway and would adversely affect the budget. 

Public Works Director Shohreh Dupuis said three times as many bollards would be needed to cast the same light as the poles and be more costly. 

The proposed tree palette of only sycamores and oaks was also a sore subject. All the commission members, landscape architect Ann Christoph and tree activist Ruben Flores encouraged diversifying the proposal.

“One side of the street is evergreen,” said McErlane, referring to the Festival of Arts landscape, “the ‘parking lot’ is deciduous. Add some evergreens.”

Few people supported the use of a chain link fence along the channelized Laguna Canyon Creek.

“There should be some other option to hide it a little better,” said Sattler.

Options for the old sewer digester building also were discussed, ranging from refurbishing only the exterior paint to finally cleaning out the interior and installing restrooms inside.

“The ($8.4m) project budget does not support any renovation beyond patching and painting,” said Wade. 

He suggested that the Planning Commission may recommend that the council consider a future capital improvement project be developed and put into the city’s 10-year plan. 

Former Planning Commissioner Barbara Metzger was appalled that complete restoration of the building would be put off to an uncertain future date as suggested by Wade.

Some consternation was expressed that the item on agenda did not identify the project as the Village Entrance, describing it only public and private parking areas to be enhanced by landscaping, new paths, center median improvements; changes in the ingress and egress to the site, circulation and parking locations; new ancillary structures and a new bridge.

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