• Streamlining the permit process

    The perennial complaint of the citizens of many cities, including Pacific Grove, is about the planning permit procedure and the length of time required to process even the most minor of repairs and alterations to existing structures.
    Despite efforts to provide clear principles for permit review, problems consistently arise, causing delay, extra expense, and additional staff time to resolve.
    At a recent City Council meeting, Councilmember Bill Kampe requested that staff  examine the Community Development Department’s (CDD) current procedure and look into possible ways to streamline the process.
    The principles under which staff says the CDD review process operates include:

    • Strict interpretation of zoning ordinance text
    • Adherence to CEQA Guideliness for historic and environmental preservation
    • Over-the-counter approval for emergency repairs where in-kind replacement materials are used
    • Fairness and consistency in applying the rules to all similar applications.

    There have been concerns raised about the cost and time necessary to prepare Historic Assessments for structures 50 years of age or older.
    Additional problems arise for homeowner applicants, according to Lynn Burgess, AICP, Chief Planner, when a project affects a section of the zoning ordinance that is ambiguous. The ordinance might be interpreted differently by the applicant, CDD staff, and – if applicable – the approving board or commission.
    Recognizing that a comprehensive code amendment process would likely involve a lengthy public hearing process and thereby extend the problems rather than quickly addressing ambiguities, City staff recommended five actions at the April 1 Council meeting which they believe could immediately ease the process of minor remodels and repairs which are often addressed by the CDD. They are:
    1.    Request that the Planning Commission clarify and broaden the meaning of  “visually insignificant” as it applies to exterior modifications when viewed from an adjacent public street.
    2.    Allow administrative architectural approvals within the Coastal Zone for emergency repair work and minor exterior changes and
    3.    extend administrative approvals for buildings on the Historic Resources Inventory.

    At future City Council meetings, the changes suggested in the second and third points above will be considered when the City Council takes up the Draft Historic Preservation Ordinance amendments. Other revisions to the code will also be considered at that time.
    4.    Clarify the definition of what percent of demolition or replacement constitutes a new structure as opposed to repair of an existing structure, and determine whether – and how – the footprint of an existing structure can change, if at all.

    Planning Commission input is requested on the interpretation of this section and for direction to staff on how to best implement it.
    5.    Exempt certain minor exterior modifications to structures 50 years of age or older from the Historic Assessment requirement and allow CDD staff to do the analysis on whether the modifications meet with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

    Staff will now have the capability to verify SOIS compliance without the need for a Historic Assessment in the following cases:
    1.    Replacement of original historic windows with in-kind materials and design, if they are determined by the City’s chief building official to be too deteriorated to restore.
    2.    Replacement of non-historic windows to match original windows in design and materials if photo documentation is available for the original windows.
    3.    Replacement with in-kind materials and design of stairs, railings, doors and porches if the City’s chief building official determines they are too deteriorated to restore.
    4.    Repair or patch of isolated areas of historic exterior siding if the City’s chief building official determines that it is deteriorated.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on April 2, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition, Front PG News


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