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Manhattan Beach releases Specific Plan for downtown

On March 14, the city of Manhattan Beach released a draft of its Specific Plan for downtown on its website.

The city hired an urban planning firm, Pacific Municipal Consultants, last year to develop a blueprint tomanage downtown’s increasing popularity. Looming over the process is the expiration in July of amoratorium that has temporarily frozen any changes in business use.

The council still has to approve the plan. A hearing is currently scheduled for April.

At a meeting to explain the 300-page document, some residents asked why certain elements they had rejected at earlier community workshops remained, such as mid-block crosswalks, which would be achieved by removing parking spaces.

“I don’t know that people are listening to what people are saying,” said one resident.

Members of the community development department said that the residents had been heard, but that the council had asked for as many options to be left in as possible.

“This is a draft plan,” said Planning Manager Laurie Jester. “Council directed us to include everything so you may see some ideas that are in conflict with the community has expressed. They want to put everything in to get public feedback.”

Community Development Director Marisa Lundstedt said that she didn’t want to speak for the council, but that she thought they were “trying to provide as much opportunities as possible for public outreach.”

“For people who have not been here since the beginning, it gives the opportunity for them to see what has been considered,” she said.

One thing absent from the plan was the suggestion by the Urban Land Institute, which gave recommendations last January, to allow three- to four-story buildings. The council asked that it not be included after pushback from residents. (Jester pointed out that the zoning in a limited section of Morningside Avenue currently allows three stories and said there were no plans to change it.)

Jester said that the city wanted to know how people felt about the plan’s proposal to allow towers on the corners of buildings up to six feet above the height limit.

“It’s something that’s very traditional in downtowns,” she said. “You see it all over the world.”

Other things discussed were having dropoff locations throughout the downtown, including by the pier, and creating a “turnaround” for cars at the end of Manhattan Beach Boulevard.

One of the developments that prompted the city council to order the moratorium and create a plan was the increase of chain stores downtown. The Urban Land Institute warned against creating a ban and instead recommended using zoning to control their proliferation. For stores that have 11 or more locations, the plan requires that they “serve the current unmet needs of the resident and visitor population”; “enhance the destination quality of the Specific Plan area”; and that their appearance “is compatible with the existing scale of development, distinctive architecture, and pedestrian orientation of the established small town character.”

Jester highlighted the plan’s proposal to have a maximum frontage width of 50 feet for individual buildings. She noted that most lots were 30 feet wide.

“We don’t want people to combine a bunch of lots and have a solid façade,” said Jester. “It’s important to retain the rhythm of the street.”

Another trend that led to the moratorium was the conversion of retail stores into banks and real estate offices. The plan dictates that at least 70 percent of the ground floor space on each block in the commercial areas along Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Highland Avenue and Manhattan Avenue should have an “active” use such as “eating and drinking establishments, retail sales, and/or personal services.”

For now, much of the plan’s “Implementation” section is empty. Staff said they were waiting for direction from the council to fill it out.

The public will have an opportunity to comment on the draft at another workshop on Mar. 24.

Lundstedt emphasized that any plans would be subject to approval by the Coastal Commission, and that its mission to promote access to the coast had to be taken into consideration.

“The majority of downtown is in the coastal zone, so it’s under the authority of the state of California,” said Lundstedt. “The council could give direction and the Coastal Commission could deny it. They ultimately have approval.”

She concluded the presentation saying, “We’re trying to do our best to meet all of the goals of the community.”