Esther Kang

Manhattan Beach officials weigh options for downtown planning

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Over the last six months, the Manhattan Beach City Council has contemplated how to best address the rampant changes taking place throughout its downtown. In the face of rising rent, a side-effect of the city’s rising prominence, mom-and-pop storefronts are shuttering doors and making way for more affluent businesses, such as chain stores and real estate offices.

At its Tuesday meeting, the council was posed with a question: does the city want to create a general downtown plan or choose a significantly pricier specific downtown plan, a comprehensive, all-in-one document addressing a range of planning issues?

After more than an hour of weighing the pros and cons, the council unanimously approved the recruitment of a consultant for the undertaking of a specific downtown plan. The council will continue the discussion at its Oct. 4 meeting, where it will review the selected proposal, as well as the general plan proposals submitted a few months earlier, and choose how to proceed.

“I think we as a city need to come into this with an open mind and engage as many and all of the stakeholders and start with a clean slate,” Councilman Tony D’errico said. “Here’s an opportunity.”

The preparation of a specific plan is expected to exceed well over the $100,000 initially earmarked by the council. City staff projected Tuesday that $300,000 would be a mid-to-low estimate. A general plan, depending on the scope, would likely cost $100,000 or less.

A general plan is a “hybrid approach” of a visioning study and allows discrete amendments and updates according to the new vision in a series of documents such as zoning ordinances, design guidelines and the downtown parking master plan.

Under state zoning law, a specific plan must include specific elements, such as land use distribution, standards and criteria for development as well as specific guidelines for implementation.

The downtown specific plan would guide future development as a single integrated document that includes the general plan, land use element, strategic plan, parking master plan and management plan.

Adoption of both plans will likely require a CEQA environmental review, but a general plan could require a less extensive review. A specific plan would take at least two years; a general plan would take less time.

City Manager Mark Danaj said a specific plan is likely in the city’s best interest but emphasized the urgency of kicking off the visioning process, beginning with community outreach. Richard Thompson, director of community development, said he believes the job can be accomplished with either plan. He recommended dusting off the 1999 downtown plan and updating it.

Councilmembers pointed out that Santa Monica’s Third Street and Downtown Seal Beach both attribute their success to having a specific downtown plan, but without knowing an estimated cost of implementation, the council was hesitant about committing to a specific plan.

“As I’ve said from the outset of this process, I just want to make sure, as Councilmember [Mark] Burton said, that we don’t end up with a plan that is so expensive that it sits on the shelf,” Councilmember David Lesser said.

On July 15, the council passed an emergency zoning ordinance prohibiting street-level changes of use in the downtown for 45 days. A public hearing will be held at the Aug. 19 council meeting to determine whether the ordinance should be extended for an additional 10 months.

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