State Approves Zoning Amendments That Could Transform IB

Published Oct. 17, 2013 by Imperial Beach Patch.

The California Coastal Commission made a couple major decisions about development in coastal San Diego last week.

Immediately after approving a $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center, the coastal commission took the final step in a process that started in 2006 and approved changes to IB zoning laws that will allow more residential projects to enter Imperial Beach’s commercial corridor.

Zoning laws define what can be built, how and where in Imperial Beach and other cities.

Ground floor shops and businesses that face the street in the city’s commercial districts on Seacoast Drive, 13th Street and parts of Palm Avenue must be at least 60 percent commercial usage.

Before the change, city law required properties in commercial districts be used only for commercial purposes.

City officials hope the changes will supply more customers for businesses, create a more pedestrian-friendly environment and give developers incentive to build in IB, said Assistant City Manager and Community Development Department Director Greg Wade.

“Typically, allowing a reduction in the amount of land designated for commercial uses in favor of low priority residential uses would raise serious concerns with regard to the protection and preservation of high priority visitor serving uses,” said Deborah Lee with California Coastal Commission staff. “However according to the city Imperial Beach has long had difficulty attracting the amount and scope of commercial uses the city would ideally like to see developed in its core commercial districts.”

Studies that led to the decision to change the city’s land use plan found that the city has ample commercial property to serve residents and visitors until 2030, Wade said.

“So what we found is that we need more residential development, even along our transit corridors,” he said. “On the periphery, while we still encourage commercial or retail use, freestanding multifamily residential would still be permitted and that’s what we believe is needed to create economically viable sustainable with high reuse value retail development in our city.”

Imperial Beach currently draws one of the lowest levels of sales tax in the state of California while property tax and taxes related to residential use account for 1/3 of city general fund revenue, according to city and state documents.

Click here to see the complete land use program and implementation plan amendment.

Builders who construct green buildings, have a high amount of three bedroom units, projects larger than 20,000 square feet and other practices the city favors will be allowed to build up to four stories, higher density properties or other incentives.

Wade hopes the land use plan changes will help spur redevelopment soon on Palm Avenue. Earlier this year the city received a $400,000 Caltrans grant that will help reshape Palm Avenue and enact the Palm Avenue Commercial Corridor Master Plan.

The plan calls for a reduction in lanes on Palm Avenue for faster moving State Route 75 traffic, the addition of slower moving lanes on side streets, more trees on sidewalks and a more pedestrian-friendly experience to create an environment with “mixed use residential over retail with freestanding residential as well as retail maintaining services. That is our vision for the area,” Wade said.

See the visualization of what this may look like in a photo uploaded to this article.

Coastal Commission staff suggested 10 changes be made to the amendment plan, the majority of which were supported by city officials.

Much of the meeting last Thursday focused on a coastal commission staff recommendation that commercial property requirements be extended to Silver Strand Shopping Center and property that currently holds Bernardo Shores RV Park.

The RV park has been in the city for more than 35 years but developers plan to build more than 200 units of three-story townhomes.

Staff argued that removal of the park would be a reduction in low-cost, overnight accommodations the commission was created to protect.

The city argued that coastal commission staff told the city in years past that the land does not qualify to be considered a low-cost, overnight accommodation.

Review of data provided by the owner found that about two percent of visitors to the RV park in the last five years only stayed one night, Wade said.

Ultimately the amendments the city did not agree with were removed with a 9-2 vote by the commission.

Commissioners Mary Shallenberger and Jana Zimmer voted against modifications to the plans to allow the removal of the RV park.

“I just think there’s not enough low income recreation on our coast and I just hate giving it up, once it’s gone it’s gone,” Shallenberger said.

San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox, who was appointed to the commission last month, ushered the land use amendment through the voting process.

Cox called Imperial Beach, which is in the district he represents on the County Board of Supervisors, one his favorite cities, “a working class community that’s very hard working” and “the little city that can.”

Suggestions that the RV park stay and commercial districts be extended to the city’s northern border are wrongheaded.

Commercial properties at the bottom of the Silver Strand as you enter IB is “probably the most disadvantageous place to stop because if you’re coming from the north from Coronado you’re going to be on the wrong side of the street and if you’re leaving Imperial Beach to Coronado you’re probably heading to do something.”

No members of the public spoke in favor or in opposition to the amendment last Thursday.

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