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Planning Commission delays decision on possible public parking next to Ti Amo

By SARA HALL

South Laguna could soon have more parking as a city board weighs a proposal to use the empty lot adjacent to the former Ti Amo by il Barone restaurant. 

Planning Commission voted 4-0 on Wednesday (Jan. 5) to continue the item until the commission’s February 2 meeting. Commissioner Susan Whitin recused herself from the vote (after participating in the discussion) because of a conflict within 500 feet of the project site.

The item was for a Temporary Use Permit and Coastal Development Permit to allow a day-use paid public parking program for a three-year period at a lot adjacent to a vacant commercial building (previously Ti Amo by il Barone) at 31727 and 31735 Coast Highway in the South Laguna Village Commercial zone. 

Site improvements include new trash and recyclable receptacles, new solar powered pay station, new lot signage and refreshing the pavement markings. The lot will be open year-round with enforcement from 8 a.m.-7 p.m.

Most of the discussion revolved around whether or not the alley connected to the parking lot should be closed off to through traffic, which would make the ingress/egress from Coast Highway the only access to the lot. 

Staff’s proposal kept the alley open, but suggested layout designs from South Laguna Civic Association closed it off. 

Commission Chair Steve Goldman and other commissioners ultimately directed city staff to study the various layout alternatives with a focus on circulation and safety, not maximizing spaces. 

“I think this isn’t going to get approved in its current state,” Goldman said. “My guess is that the commissioners will ultimately approve some version of this because having some parking spaces versus no parking spaces on a property just sitting and doing nothing is probably the best alternative.” 

Some commissioners questioned whether eight parking spaces are worth the continued maintenance and enforcement the lot will need. 

“It seems like more trouble than it’s worth,” said Chair Pro Tem Jorg Dubin, noting that the number of potential spaces is half of the original estimate of 16.

The parking spaces originally proposed for the corner of the lot have to be removed because of the exposed roots of the eucalyptus tree, explained Capital Program Manager Tom Perez. Others were removed to allow for turn-around space.

“We’re making a lot ado about a little…We’re spending a lot of city time and resources on figuring out how to get seven or eight parking spaces here, which, in my opinion, is not the highest or best use of our staff,” Goldman said. “But, at the end of the day, having parking spaces versus nothing is clearly better.”

Other commissioners agreed that even a few additional spaces are worth it, especially considering the lot is not currently being used at all.

“Parking is parking, and parking is precious,” Whitin said. 

It will also bring in some revenue, several others noted. 

Planning Commission delays Ti Amo property

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

The property at 31727 PCH, most recently occupied by Italian restaurant Ti Amo by il Barone

When the city purchased the lot, the Planning Commission approved staff’s general plan consistency determination to acquire the property for future civic uses. 

There was no plan or project or determined use for the property, Goldman said. As a taxpayer, it’s frustrating to see the city buy a property with no clear plan, he commented. 

“That frustration is exasperated in this conversation,” Goldman said on Wednesday. 

Goldman questioned the ultimate use of the building and whether or not it would be demolished in the future. If so, they should do it now to allow for a bigger parking lot. 

There is not a specified use identified at this time, Perez confirmed. 

“Our goal was to make an impact for this coming summer season and be able to open the parking lot (by then) and that’s why we were looking to use just the existing layout with minimal improvements required,” Perez said. 

Moving forward with demolishing the building would require further permitting and the purpose would need to be identified, he added. Since the future use of the site is still up in the air, this is a temporary idea to get some use out of the lot.

“With the uncertainty of what the site will ultimately be, the thought was that we would move forward the quickest and fastest way that would could provide some parking and not really take a lot of time and expense to do so,” Perez said.

It will likely be primarily utilized by visitors and not locals, Perez said. The shopper’s permit will likely be valid at the lot, he added. 

Most people parking there will probably be a significantly high percentage of beachgoers, Goldman agreed. Visitors walk up and down the highway now, he said, and people headed to Table Rock will probably use the lot. 

“You’re going to have people here who aren’t familiar with the area,” he said. “The beachgoers – overall – who come, it’s a mess the way these guys park and wander around on Coast Highway.”

It’s a little “dodgy” and unclear back through the back alley, Whitin said. The two-way circulation alternative is a good idea, she added.

John Thomas, vice president of the South Laguna Civic Association, said the group supports the TUP for re-opening the parking lot but with revisions.

“With the demand for parking here, why not try to make some reasonable use of it, even if it’s not optimal,” Thomas said. “It just seemed kind of silly to close it off until the city decides what they’re going to do with it.”

The association’s main point of concern with the layout was regarding the exit route through the alley, Thomas said. The general public’s use of the alley is problematic, he said. 

In a letter to the commission, Thomas wrote that there are issues regarding using the narrow and circuitous route as an exit. It’s likely going to be much busier than it was when previously used for the restaurant, which had an attendant overseeing the lot.

They preferred the design with the ingress/egress on Coast Highway, Thomas said.

SLCA provided two suggested layout designs for consideration. 

“Our effort in doing these revised layouts was to try to make the area work as best we could and to make it similar to how the area has been used in the past,” said SLCA Director Emerita Ann Christoph. 

The restaurant was only open in the evenings and during the day the parking lot was virtually empty, she said. People in the neighborhood used the alley and parking lot as an alternative exit on Coast Highway. 

There was also some questions as to ownership of the alleyway easement. 

Although some commissioners questioned whether making the highway the only entrance and exit onto the lot was an appropriate design.

Having access only from Coast Highway doesn’t make sense, Dubin said. It would be better if the egress is through the alley to Seacliff Drive, where a traffic light provides a safe option for drivers to turn in either direction on Coast Highway. 

If all ingress/egress is on Coast Highway, people will be slowing down and pulling in there to look for empty spaces. That could interrupt the flow of traffic on Coast Highway and cause congestion, Dubin said. If the lot is full (which it likely will be most of the time with just eight spaces) getting back out onto the highway could cause a potential hazard, he added. 

“I just don’t think the egress onto Coast Highway is a good idea at all, I think it’s really dangerous,” Dubin said. 

It creates more risk than benefit, Dubin added. And it could open the city up to liability issues if there’s an accident.

Whether it’s perfect or not, circulation through the lot with egress out the alley to Seacliff Drive has been functioning for years with the restaurant and businesses there, Dubin said. 

“To change that in order to try and get people in and out on Coast Highway I think is a really dangerous solution,” he said. “If the egress is out to Coast Highway, I just feel like something not good is going to happen there.”

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.

 

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