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Formed-based codes, new zoning code adopted in Paso

Posted: Friday, May 6th, 2011

Form-based codes in Paso Robles it's a first-of-a-kind adopted planning approach incorporated into a master document for the city hailed by San Luis Obispo Council of Governments and Paso Robles Community Development Department officials alike as setting an example for future planning.

Following years of public hearings, ad-hoc committee meetings, charrettes and public discussion, the city council moved forward this week with unanimously approving with several motions the new Uptown/Town Centre Specific Plan.

Designed in collaboration with Moule & Polyzoides, the plan will lay the framework for new planning along an 1,100-acre area on the west side of Paso Robles.

Geiska Velasquez, representing SLOCOG, commended the city for its efforts made thus far.

"This is a plan that's really going to be an example for communities across this county and the region," Velasquez said.

City Councilman Fred Strong echoed a similar sentiment.

According to Strong, at a statewide meeting the Uptown/Town Centre Specific Plan was hailed by state officials as an example of a positive approach to planning, "responding to the trends of the last 30 years and looking forward to the next 50."

City Councilman Ed Steinbeck said that from the beginning, he was one of the individuals who looked at the plan with a of of a scant eye, but that he was very pleased with the overall result. Having asked city officials to take him through the process, he said that chapter five, page 2 in particular "absolutely identifies the process, which is much clearer."

Like Steinbeck, Gilman said he too was "very skeptical" from the get-go.

"I told Mr. (Ron) Whisenand several times that he could look at me as a 'no' vote just to watch him sweat," Gilman said. "The reality is that this does enhance people's opportunities in the downtown area, and I think that in the long-run it will enhance this west side area as a viable place to develop and own property."

Gilman said that he took very seriously comments made by a stakeholder to consider allowing mini-storage in the downtown area, but that he could not support that idea due to the estimated escalation of land values that would require a more aggressive approach.

According to city officials, there will be semi-annual reviews slated for the plan, where adjustments can be made. It was an idea supported by various members of the council including City Councilman John Hamon.

Hamon said that with regard to future adjustments and design, "the city on the west side, again, from 100 years as it was originally laid out, we have kind of deviated now we're kind of I think trying to get back on focus back with a certain plan. I think that the form-based codes that we have are unique, I don't think anybody else has those kinds tools at their disposal, and I think it's going to be a great piece of work for anybody to grab a hold of."

Three members of the public spoke on the item: Tom Flynn, property owner representing the Flynn family; property owner Tom Madden; and Downtown Paso Robles Main Street Association Executive Director Norma Moye. Madden expressed ongoing concerns about how future zoning would affect existing uses, which would be re-established, as well as screening requirements. Flynn disputed the public participation process and warned that property owners still may not be aware of the changes, "and there's a lot of big surprises for folks."

Flynn said that it will "negatively impact future development by increasing policies, codes, restrictions and ultimately adding to the long list of never-ending government intrusion into our lives."

Moye said she wanted re-assurance that the plan called for certain electrical upgrades for performances, as well a downtown water feature and running water for vendors. All concerns were addressed by city staff.

Uncomfortable with several items and wholly opposed to others, Mayor Duane Picanco didn't move forward with the approval of the plan until pointing out some key items of concern.

Among the things that he did not agree with included diagonal parking along 13th Street and Spring Street, which he said would be a "nightmare for traffic." In addition, Picanco said that he disagreed with locations identified for future city facilities. Also, he said he understood the concern made by members of the public about non-conforming uses.

"I really do understand that we have non-conforming uses," Picanco said, and that he can understand the concerns of the stakeholders who expressed concerns during Tuesday's hearing. "You have changes in council, and you have changes in staff, and their memories are not as good. With that, there's no use for me going into further discussion only than that the only hope that I feel that part of the salvation of this is the fact that there will be future reviews of these things."

At the conclusion of the meeting, Steinbeck thanked the public for their input and staff for persevering in bringing a plan "that's going to work for us all."

"I appreciate it," Steinbeck said.

Picanco described the process as "long" and "tedious" and that he "appreciates the efforts of the committees taking the time and the effort to make this as best as possible."

Whisenand said that staff would like to thank the council and congratulate them.

"This is a major effort," Whisenand said. "I thought Councilman Hamon's comments about the form-based code were quite appropriate. This is cutting edge. This is the first true form-based code in this county."

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