Wednesday, March 21 , 2018, 3:15 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 57º


Ron Fink: Planning Mistakes; Every City Has Made Some

Any planning commissioner will tell you of mistakes that have been made despite the best efforts of the staff and commissioners to assure high quality, minimal impact projects. Lompoc has a few notable examples.

The planning process has a lot of moving parts: A developer has an idea, property is purchased, plans are submitted for review and finally the local planning commission holds public hearing to discuss the project.

Having been a commissioner for more than 15-years, I can honestly say no two hearings have ever been the same.

Some projects breeze through unopposed by anyone; these are usually well thought out and have no objectionable components. But, there are exceptions.

From my perspective as a citizen appointee to the commission, we are supposed to look at projects from the view of neighbors, passersby and customers who use it.

From the staff’s perspective, the project must conform to the myriad codes, regulations, setbacks, special considerations and technical input from several city departments.

Each of the commissioners I have served with brings a different outlook to community planning; this is what’s important when trying to figure out what’s right for a project; but, mistakes can be made.

The problem is that looking a diagrams and slick Power Point presentations doesn’t help when trying to visualize future adverse impacts.

One example is an auto parts outlet that’s been around for decades at the corner of H Street and College Avenue. At the time it was approved, planning commissioners required a large showroom window be installed on the College Avenue side of the building.

The project proponent pleaded with commissioners saying he planned to use that wall for shelving to display his wares and it would block the window and not be appealing from the street.

Commissioners stuck by their requirement, and for decades the window has been blocked by shelving just like the project proponent said it would; so, the window was useless in the traditional sense.

To make matters worse, the city had a longstanding ordinance that banned window signage on commercial businesses that covered more than 15 percent of the window; no exceptions.

That was until recently when the current planning commission changed the sign ordinance allowing windows like this to be covered.

Another is a well-known coffee shop near the intersection of H Street and Central Avenue. Like most coffee shops, it has a drive-thru, so motorists can grab a quick cup on their travels.

The drive-thru accommodates seven cars, which is the corporate design for these projects. Unfortunately, this design doesn’t consider local conditions or the popularity of the business.

Rarely are there only seven cars at the drive-up window. Typically, the cars are in a queue wrapped around the building and spilling into the adjoining parking lot.

And, that quick cup is a fantasy as motorists idle for several minutes waiting for a chance to order an expensive cup of coffee, specially flavored to their taste; then several minutes more to get it and be on their way.

Another of these corporate shops was recently approved on Ocean Avenue and E Street; this time the commission was determined to get it right because the drive-thru was totally on the corporations’ property and the only place for a queue longer than seven cars was their own parking lot or the street.

This area of town is on a busy thoroughfare and home to both city and county government offices, and a very busy superior court; we anticipated a large volume of traffic for this shop as I am sure the project proponents did.

We were determined to avoid the same problems as have occurred with the other location.

But a traffic study had concluded there would be no traffic circulation issues with the proposed project, and since the planning commission is fact-based and not a political entity, we had no choice but to approve the project.

As a consolation to our concerns, a condition was added that said the city would monitor traffic conditions and bring it back to the commission for resolution if it became a problem.

To this I asked: “So, what will we do, make them rebuild the project to fix a problem that we are almost sure will happen?

The last example, there are many others but I don’t have the space to list all of them, is a very popular hamburger outlet near the very busy intersection of H Street and Central Avenue.

This outfit is well-known on the South Coast and when folks found out it was coming to Lompoc, the blogs all lit up in anticipation of tasty meals.

Once again, access to this location was going to be difficult. To enter or exit the parking area, there was no drive-thru. Diners needed to cross two lanes of very busy traffic, then try to find a place to park.

All five commissioners, remembering past mistakes, tried to require mitigation measures to head off future problems.

Once again, a traffic study had concluded there would be no traffic circulation issues with the proposed project, and we had no choice but to approve it.

Well, the project is complete and has been open for a couple of months, and our traffic concerns have been validated.

Most people in Lompoc are polite and want to help, so as diners try to enter or exit the burger joint, people stop and allow them to proceed. This, of course, slows traffic and bogs down an already congested intersection unnecessarily.

Yes, planning mistakes are made mostly because it’s hard to project into the future to identify potential issues. But even when an issue is self-evident based on past experience, it’s nearly impossible to make meaningful changes.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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