Archives for category: General Plan

Harborwalk-5

Tonight the Fullerton City Council will consider approving what could be the worst mixed use housing project in the city’s history. Fullerton Harborwalk would be built on 2.9 acres of what had been a car lot on Habor Blvd. between Orangethorpe Ave. and Ash Ave. The land is currently zoned for “Commerical” use, and would require a re-zoning to “Neighborhood Center Mixed Use,” as well as a General Plan amendment, according to the staff report.

This new pile of junk is just another massive block of four storey mediocre street frontage that will no doubt be justified as somehow activating the block by not having a proper setback and being transportation friendly because it’s on a bus route. Harborwalk features no traffic mitigation, or even adequate ways to access the exisiting streets. And it’s shoved right up against the neighborhood behind it.

Harborwalk-3

How would you like to live behind this thing?

How bad is it? So bad that several Fullerton Planning Commissioners had unresolved problems with the plan, leading them to vote against supporting it in February, although enough of them went along with this awful plan to send it on its way to council. The project seems to have brought the Friends for Fullerton’s Future briefly out of retirement long enough to post some excerpts from the meeting to Youtube. (The full video can be found on the city’s website, but, oddly, no notes from any Planning Commission meetings from 2014 are posted.)

A review of the staff report shows that of 150 units, only 7 are live/work. But then the staff report goes on to characterize this laughable disparity as “consistent” with the “Neighborhood Mixed Use” designation of Fullerton’s General Plan, which is “intended for nieghborhood centers that provide residents with opportunities to walk to retail and services businesses, residential uses, as well as gathering places such as plazas.” Do you see a plaza, or anyplace else to gather?

Then, as expected, the report refers to the Downtown Core and Corridors Specific Plan (DCCSP) “study area,” noting that the DCCSP “Development activity resulitng in attractive architecture and enhanced streetscape is desired as a means to increase the use of public transit, strengthen surrounding neighborhoods and improve the quality of life for the community.” Setting aside for the moment that Harborwalk fulfills none of these requirments other than having a bus line run near it, The Downtown Core and Corridors Specific Plan (DCCSP) has never been approved by anyone. It is still in the study phase, and yet Fullerton’s planning staff continually use it to justify proposed developments.

Fullerton Planning Commissioner John Silber called it’s characterization as a mixed use residential/retail development “a fig leaf,” going on to explain that it was really a “long, anonmyous apartment complex with a few live/work units mixed in which don’t represent anything in terms of vitality or breaking up that section of Harbor.” Earlier in the meeting Mr. Silber cited Jane Jacobs’ classic 1970 work the The Death and Life of Great American Cities, referring to the author’s observation that short city blocks allow for greater pedesitran circulation and interaction, while long blocks ceate isolated spaces.

“It doesn’t meet the standards on urban design,” Mr. Silber wisely commented.

Harborwalk-1

A single central corridor six hundred feet long!

Harborwalk will require the consolitdation of different adjoining properties to create a single long block over six hundred feet long. For some perspective, that’s the length of two football fields (with a single nearly six hundred foot corridor running through it!). Is a single block that long consistent with the creation of “nieghborhood centers that provide residents with opportunities to walk to retail and services businesses, residential uses, as well as gathering places such as plazas?”

Jane Jacobs learned her lesson over four decades ago from the disastrous mid-century demolitions of whole neighbhorhoods which were replaced by massive mega-apartment blocks in eastern cities. Others read her book and belatedly shifted to a strategy of more permeable and walkable mixed use spaces, but not the developers of Harborwalk.

Fullerton’s General Plan is supposed to reflect the new thinking about active, walkable planning too, but this project was nonetheless approved and sent on to the council. Will the Fullerton City Council hold true to the stated goals of the General Plan, to create more a more livable city, or is that document and the Core and Corridors study just a whitewash for more massive, crummy apartment blocks wherever they can squeeze them in?

Harborwalk-4

Massively dull, and utterly obstructive.

DCCSP-Map

The plan covers 1,310 acres, over 9% of all of the land in Fullerton.

Tonight’s meeting of Fullerton’s Planning Commission includes an update on the Downtown Core and Corridors Specific Plan, aka DCCSP, a plan being developed by an outside consultant hired by the City of Fullerton.

“DOWNTOWN CORE AND CORRIDORS SPECIFIC PLAN (DCCSP) UPDATE AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT REPORT (EIR) SCOPING.

The consultant team will provide a project update and solicit comments and suggestions regarding scope and content of the EIR to be prepared for the proposed project. The DCCSP area encompasses 1,310 acres and spans the commercial core and corridors across the City of Fullerton.”

1,310 acres accounts for over 9% of all of the land in Fullerton. This specific plan represents a major change to the way large amounts of property in the city will be allowed to develop in the coming decades.

According to Fullerton Planning Forum, the city’s public portal to planning projects, the DCCSP “will guide the transformation of the area into thriving and sustainable districts and neighborhoods that meet the diverse needs of residents, businesses, employees and visitors.

The specific plan promises:

“Better landscaping, lighting and sidewalks.
– Improved public spaces.
– Improved connections to our neighborhoods.
– Enhanced city gateways.
Thriving stores, restaurants and businesses.”

(The description on the Fullerton Planning Forum site sets the number of acres covered by the study at approximately 1100; somehow it has grown by over 200 acres…).

Who would argue with better lighting, thriving stores, and improved public spaces? At the first public meeting about the study, many residents expressed a desire for improved parks in their neighborhoods, but some rightly questioned where the money would come from to pay for them. The DCCSP doesn’t provide funding for anything.

Setting aside for a moment that the “improvements” may not be what you or I have in mind, what we really need to focus on are the “Improved connections to our neighborhoods,” because what the DCCSP is really about is facilitating high density development on Commonwealth Ave. and other major streets in the city.

You won’t find any link to even a Draft of the plan itself on the Planning Commission Agenda, but here is a link to a general description of the project:

http://www.ci.fullerton.ca.us/depts/dev_serv/development_activity/dccsp.asp

Some time ago, before the study commenced, then-Community Development Director Al Zelinka told me that the impetus for the project came from inquiries by land owners who wanted to develop properties on Commonwealth Ave., but were restricted to building one storey projects. The intent, in part, at least, is to adopt changes to the current zoning code to allow for two or three storey (or more?) high density residential or mixed use developments on these properties that directly border streets with residential single family homes.

The purpose of tonight’s item is to solicit input from the Planning Commission for the plan’s Environmental Impact Study (EIR) to prepare the plan for eventual presentation to the Planning Commission, and finally, the City Council. But over the past two years members of the city’s planning staff have repeatedly presented high density residential developments along Euclid, Orangethorpe, and other streets as being consistent with the DCCSP, even though the plan has never been approved by anyone, and isn’t even finished.

Cuckoo-Clock-copy

Expect more of this kind of thing near you.

The impact of these projects on nearby neighborhoods should be a source of primary concern for residents of the city. More development can be expected to bring more traffic to smaller streets and avenues designed for single family neighborhoods. The DCCSP bears close scrutiny because, although it was funded by a Sustainable Communities Planning Grant, it is already being used to promote higher density projects without the transportation alternatives to make them sustainable or the promised improved public spaces.

On September 11 Fullerton’s Planning Commission will consider an update to the city’s General Plan Housing Element, prepared earlier this year. The State of California’s Department of Housing and Community Development requires cities to periodically submit updates for review.

A history of the process used to develop this update is available on the city’s website. The Planning Commission’s agenda includes a link to the Draft Housing Element Update.

The purpose of the Housing Element is to provide direction for developing more housing within the city to meet expected population increases with a plan that accommodates all income levels.. With the city’s land more or less built out to the borders (with the notable exception of Coyote Hills), developers have been building multi-unit residential projects on former car dealerships, former factories, and other “urban infill” sites.

However, the authors of the draft Housing Element Update also contemplate increased density in other areas of the city, including older neighborhoods surrounding the downtown core. The paragraph below describes small properties on residential streets zoned R-2, R-3, etc., where multi-unit structures are allowed.

Double-Column-House

A house identified as an “underutilized parcel.”

“There are number of parcels within the City that are zoned for R-2, R-2P, R-3, or R-3R and are developed with fewer residential units than the maximum allowed by the specific zone. These underutilized parcels provide opportunities for units to be constructed in addition to the existing unit(s) or opportunities for redeveloping the entire site with a larger number of units (italics added). Table B-6 details these underutilized parcels and their capacities. The total development potential of these parcels is an additional 823 units.”

Table B-6 is a nine page appendix near the end of the document. Some of the identified homes are located within Residential Preservation Zones, where owners are allowed to build back-houses, as long as they conform to required architectural standards. Many of these houses, however, are just as old, dating as far back as the 1920’s, but are not protected by preservation district status. Instead, they are located near Fullerton College, or on the west side of downtown, which any reasonable person would recognize as historic. Although, some older housing on these streets has already been demolished in places, replaced by multi-unit mini-apartment buildings, interrupting the flow of craftsman-era homes.

Mixed-Street

A typical example of multi-unit apartments built adjacent to an historic old home–and probably right on top of another one.

The authors attempt to reassure residents that historic structures are valued in a section entitled “Policy Action 2.1: Preservation of Historic Residential Resources.”

“The City values its historic residential resources. To ensure the continued preservation of historic residential structures, the City shall encourage the conservation, preservation and enhancement of the City’s historic residential neighborhoods. The City shall consult with organizations, such as Fullerton Heritage, and investigate the appropriateness and feasibility of additional General Plan policies that further encourage the preservation and enhancement of historic residential resources in the City…”

But the pages of properties identified as “underutilized” strongly suggests that “the City” would like to see increased density on these streets, and there is no distinction made between which properties might be able to handle a quaint “granny house” and which are ripe for demolition, in favor of “redeveloping the entire site.”

Atrocity 1

Does the City of Fullerton mean to encourage more buildings like this one? Note the 1920’s era craftsman home located next to it.

Inquiries to Fullerton Heritage, the city’s premiere local historical non-profit, were met with this reply: “It is not part of Fullerton Heritage’s Mission to have a position on a topic unless it affects the historical resources of our lovely city.”

Not very reassuring. Residents of Fullerton’s older neighborhoods should be very wary of any report that advocates for higher density without any explicit plan for protecting what is left of the city’s historic homes not already located in Residential Preservation Zones. The Planning Commission should reject this update to the Housing Element until such a plan is clearly delineated.

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