City Council and planners discuss Zoning Code future

File photo

No action taken at study session

The City Council and the Planning Commission recently held a study session on amending to the Seal Beach Zoning Code.

The council didn’t make any decisions about the Zoning Code.

The consultants offered their preliminary suggestions and officials raised concerns about parking and other issues.

Consultants and staff are recommending mixed-use zoning that would allow residential and commercial buildings to be in the same zone.

The ideas officials discussed included underground parking (and whether it’s possible) and increasing density in five specific areas of the city.

The study session took place at the end of a roughly four-and-a-half hour, April 24, joint council and Planning Commission meeting that began at 7 p.m.

Community Development Director Alexa Smittle said the city heard from residents who were concerned about high-density residential development. She said they have expressed opposition or confusion.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” Smittle said.

She said this was a unique moment in which the city can craft the future community that might exist.

Consultants David Bergman and Monica Szydlik, of Lisa Wise Consulting, led the meeting.

“The choices that are before you are difficult,” Bergman said.

He described the goal as finding solutions that comply with mandates over which the community has no short-term control.

He described the solutions as ones that improve the community or are at least ones the community can live with.

Szydlik provided the overview, beginning with the legal framework.

According to Szydlik, Senate Bill 330 doesn’t allow cities to impose standards on residential projects that make developments impossible.

According to Szydlik, cities may set objective standards for qualifying projects.

Szydlik said the Housing Element calls for rezoning about 10 or 11 sites throughout Seal Beach. Szydlik said they were focusing on the ones where a zone is designated high-density mixed use.

“Which is to say, a zone with limited commercial and high-density residential,” Szydlik said.

That description apparently applied to five areas: the Shops at Rossmoor (which is actually in Seal Beach), the Old Ranch Town Center, the Seal Beach Plaza/Village, the Accurate Self Storage area, and the Seal Beach Center.

Szydlik said those are the new sites that Lisa Wise Consulting anticipates putting into the new Zoning Code.

Szydlik went over some of the preliminary recommendations for the proposed new zoning, which would include a new a zone for commercial and high-density residential.

Those recommendations included:

  • Side and rear setbacks
  • Street-facing upper story step-backs or top story roof forms
  • Building and façade articulation
  • Limits on, or prohibition of, units accessed by exterior stairs.
  • Allow projections for architectural features, stairs, decks, balconies.
  • Design for buildings in flood zone and coastal areas.
  • Attached parking only.
  • Limits on street-facing ground-level parking.
  • Landscaping along building bases and at frontages.
  • Standards for storm water management.


Council comments

“We’re talking about reducing the number of parking spaces required for some of these kind of buildings,” said District One Councilman Joe Kalmick said.

Kalmick said one of the ways to overcome the inertia, the desire to keep the city the way it has always been, is to start these discussions, and to get residents and the council used to seeing some of these changes.

He said it looks like it may be necessary to allow second-story residents above Main Street.

He said it was getting the community used to what the realities are and what the city’s goals might be.

District Five Councilman Nathan Steele said they were talking about look and feel.

“That’s the goal of the study session to get feedback from you on look and feel as we move into our next steps,” Smittle said.

District Three Councilwoman Lisa Landau referred to a slide that the consultants showed of a hypothetical 20,000-square foot lot.

She asked if the city was considering 46 units per acre because the hypothetical building was two stories.

Smittle said the city was considering 46 units per acre because the city has to meet certain density standards for implementation of the Housing Element.

Smittle said the number 46 was already in the city Zoning Code.

“So it’s an acre vertically, not horizontally,” Landau said.

“It can be both,” Smittle said.

“You can keep things at a lower height standard, but then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to have as great of a setback or as much open space or something like that,” Smittle said.

“It’s a tradeoff,” Smittle said.

Smittle confirmed for Landau that Pavilions is not considered to abut the Hill because of Bolsa Avenue, but the city is acknowledging that Pavilions is just across the street.

Landau said she can’t get away from the fact that everyone is going to be greatly impacted by all of the traffic. “I know I’m getting off track, but that is a concern of mine,” Landau said.

District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic asked how the public can be involved.

Sustarsic said she was concerned about the shopping centers that are going to be rezoned.

“There’s only so much space there,” Sustarsic said.

“A 3-foot setback on a multi-story building, that’s imposing,” Sustarsic said.

She said she didn’t know if there was enough space in those locations to get 46 units per acre and have any breathing room.

Smittle said that was kind of the back-and-forth of the analysis that they were going through.

According to Smittle, people hear a lot about “builder’s remedy” because of specific projects north of Seal Beach.

(According to UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies, a builder’s remedy “allows developers of affordable housing projects to bypass the zoning code and general plan of cities that are out of compliance with the Housing Element Law.”)

Smittle said that was possible, but they were trying to make the Seal Beach Zoning Code as good as they can.

David Bergman, of Lisa Wise Consulting, said it was a good question and the reason why the community should take its time and get the Zoning Code right.

Sustarsic asked if Seal Beach could force a developer to put in  affordable units.

City Attorney Nick Ghirelli said Seal Beach currently does not have an what’s called an inclusionary housing requirement that compels a developer to make a certain number of units that are considered affordable.

Ghirelli said the Housing Element identifies sites with densities that are expected to draw residents that qualify as affordable housing.

“Builders aren’t compelled to do anything; the city’s not compelled to do anything,” Ghirelli said. But according to the city attorney, Seal Beach has to plan for it.

“So the city’s planning for it through its Housing Element,” Ghirelli said.

Steele asked if the Zoning Code amendment needed to be thought out before the city submits the next application for a certified Housing Element.

Smittle said the Zoning Code is supposed to follow the Housing Element.

Later, Kalmick said the city has to rezone these properties, but the city does not build anything.

Kalmick said many of the areas that the city has to rezone to accommodate the Regional Housing Needs Assessment number may never be built.

(The state is requiring Seal Beach to plan for the construction of 1,243 residential units.)

“It would be nice to keep the flavor of Seal Beach, somehow, in the designs,” Moore said.

Planners weigh in

District Two Commissioner Dominic Massetti said there was so much fear in the community that the city would tear down three homes on Catalina and replace them with high-density housing.

“That’s not what we’re talking about here, right?” Massetti said.

Massetti said they were talking about taking space that’s out there that’s currently not being used and putting in high density housing.

According to Massetti, Seal Beach is not going to be able to meet state requirements by building single-family homes.

Massetti said he was probably the only person who lives in a 42-unit, three-story home.

“My unit sells for half a million dollars now,” he said. “So it’s not affordable housing.”

Massetti said he liked many of the features that were proposed in the consultants’ preliminary recommendations.

District Four Planning Commissioner Patty Campbell said one of the things that concerned her ass that the state wanted to put a cap on minimum parking.

“The fastest way to gum-up a neighborhood is where you have insufficient parking,” Campbell said.

She brought up the Lampson Avenue development in the city of Los Alamitos. She argued there was insufficient parking for the planned housing project.

“They can’t park on Lampson,” Campbell said.

Campbell said the state is trying to push people into use public transportation. “We would love to take public transportation—if we had some,” Campbell said.

She said Manhattan can build up because they have granite.

“We don’t have granite,” Campbell said.

“We have a water table of 11 to 13 feet,” Campbell.

She asked how you put in underground parking when you have a water table that’s at 11 feet.

Campbell said they were looking at the shopping centers. She asked about the height of those existing shopping centers.

Smittle didn’t know off the top of her head.

Massetti told Campbell that they had underground parking where he lived.

However, District Three Commissioner Richard Coles  said the Leisure World parking in question was not  completely underground.

Campbell said there was a difference between senior units and family units.

“It turns into a war zone when people are looking for parking and it’s insufficient,” Campbell said.

Smittle said the city doesn’t know.

According to Smittle, it was possible that a developer could take down some of the residential and commercial structures and rebuild to incorporate commercial on the bottom and residential on the top.

Campbell asked if there is a height limit.

“That’s on the table for discussion,” Smittle said.

Campbell said that’s what staff needs figure out and they need to plan for minimum parking.

Coles said he has lived here 40 years. He didn’t believe the people of Seal Beach want to trade their quality of life for market capitalization.

Coles said that while he respected the fact that the city needs to move forward, he said it needs to be done  in a manner that is consistent with what Seal Beach is about.

Coles said this year the ground water is about 6 feet, so underground parking is not an option.

Coles said this is a suburban community, not a vertical community.

He also said there are serious traffic problems right now.

District One Commissioner Calvin Mingione said he was interested in wedding the practical approach with the constraints that the city is up against.

He indicated he wanted to add articulation to the buildings.

He also suggested variation with building heights.

He asked if a parking structure could be wrapped around a building.

District Five Commissioner Margo Wheeler said the five sites that were being discussed were just a small part of Seal Beach.

Wheeler said she didn’t think they were talking about changing the character of Seal Beach because those sites were rather isolated.

Wheeler said she thought Seal Beach needed to look at setbacks and standards to parcels on larger streets versus the parcels adjacent to smaller streets.

Wheeler suggested more discussion about open space. For areas where projects that face single-family homes, the perimeters walls  needed more fine-tuning.

Wheeler wanted to see more attention to landscaping.

“I think that trees make all the difference in the world,” Wheeler said.

She also wanted sere about lighting and signage in the Zoning Code amendments.