Vista City Council revisited the General Plan provisions related to mixed use development and Councilman John Aguilera explained what previous council officials were dealing with in 2008-2009 when the financial crisis occurred and then California hit all its hurting municipalities for redevelopment funds.
“Regarding mixed use development,” said Rigby, “and I placed this on the agenda. My purpose for bringing this up tonight is to have a discussion and to get some concensus to have staff come back with some cleanup of these discrepancies in the zone requirements. I realize years ago that council at that time changed the requirement to certain areas of the city to be … considered mixed use versus strictly commercial, is that correct?”
City Director John Conley answered. “That is correct. We did change the zoning in 2012 … from commercial on a number of properties to mixed use. “
“The residential requirement guideline was changed at that time to reflect the change of the zone,” Rigby noted. “And I’m not sure that there was clarification for [perhaps] why they would do that when some of the development was strictly residential, [and] not an actual mixed use property with retailer commercial below and apartment or condos above. So do we know what the rationale of the council at that time was to change those guidelines …?”
Clarification from Conley
“I cant speak for the council, but I can speak for staff at that time,” replied Conley. “The reason that we changed the guidelines was to make it more flexible for re-development in those areas that are smart growth oriented or near transit centers.” Essentially, according to Conley, they were trying to promote an increased density.
Parking problems seemed to be the consequence for residents in those neighborhoods. Other issues also arose, including “set back” requirements. Some lots in mixed use zones are smaller parcels, it was stated. Having “a 20 foot setback” might be a problem for smaller lots. It appears the city leaders meant to spur new and attractive developments. Apparently, according to Councilmember Campbell, Vista’s “Mixed Use” zoning standards are fairly equivalent to surrounding cities. Conley agreed with Campbell.
“So I’m not too sure that we would really want to be tinkering with some of these standards for mixed use,” said Campbell. He did suggest another term, “flex-use” zoning, as perhaps being more accurate. Campbell added that it seemed a bit of a “misnomer” to use the term mixed use, in the sense that it seems we’re expecting to use residential and commercial zoning on the same site.
The worst of times
John Aguilera also volunteered what the previous thinking was on the changes, as he was a part of that council and stated that they were “looking to spur development in our downtown area.” He mentioned the terrible financial crisis of 2008-2009.
“We had just gone through a pretty horrible time 2008-2009,” Aguilera added. “[The] financial crisis, real estate disaster and we were just getting ourselves prepared that if the economy did turn around, we would be one of the top cities that developers would be looking at.”
“And, with the help of John and his staff … we came up with some of these ideas of doing mixed use in our downtown area,” the Councilman added. “To spur development to make it easier for developers to come in, to make it attractive, for them. Some of these properties, if you look at them, are pretty small. And if we use our normal setbacks on those properties “ [you’re] just not going to build anything.”
The re-development dollars which were sucked up from cities in California were also mentioned. “At that time our redevelopment dollars had been taken away from us,” said Aguilera. “So we were looking for creative ways … to come up with another way to overcome this disaster of redevlopement being taken away from us and all the other cities in the state of California.” Part of their action was the rezoning effort. They also considered encouraging “transit oriented projects in our town,” thinking to help people live closer to the Sprinter and maybe not need to use their cars as much.
Parking issue consequences
Aguilera conceded that perhaps, in the rezoning effort, parking was overlooked. “The one thing that I will say that possibly got overlooked was the mixed use property might not work for parking standards….”
One speaker came to discuss the issue from her neighborhood’s perspective. “[O]ur neighborhood is being seriously affected by mixed use being applied to apartment zoning,” said Val Brown. There is already a parking problem there,and she told the council that 15 additional cars from the condos were parking in her neighborhood on residential street “on regular basis, spilling over into a cul-de-sac, because there is no parking.”
She said she did appreciate the conversation. “I think this is a good time to look at the unintended consequences of what is happening. And we don’t get a do-over. Our actions today affect the future.” Perhaps the General Plan “needs to be amended” said Brown.
Another speaker from the area affected near Breezehill spoke to the council. “I’m here about the mixed use,” said Roy Pearson. He described the traffic near Breezehill as being “intense” and that parking is currently “a problem.” He asked the council to revisit the mixed use zoning.
In the end, City Manager Patrick Johnson told the council staff could look at the mixed use zones and come back with recommendations for them to consider. For a link to the City of Vista’s zoning and General Plan Land Use maps, please click this link.