SOLANA BEACH — Solana Beach moved a giant step closer to gaining more control over development after the California Coastal Commission, at its March 7 meeting in Chula Vista, certified its Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan.It was the city’s sixth attempt in twice as many years – at a cost of more than $500,000 since 2006 — to gain approval for the document, although it could still be a year or two before any benefits are realized.Currently, all development within the city, even east of Interstate 5, must be approved first by City Council and then by the Coastal Commission.
Once implementation policies are adopted — a process that could take about a year — most developments will only need to go before council and could take less than half the current time to receive approval.
Developments west of Sierra Drive and Pacific Avenue, as well as those on the northern end of the city that abut the lagoon, will still need to go before the Coastal Commission, City Manager David Ott said.
One of the biggest victories for Solana Beach was maintaining status quo for short-term rentals.
Coastal Commission staff recommended they be a minimum of one day. City officials said most properties along the coast are residential so they were requesting the minimum be seven days to avoid constant turnovers.
Commission directors sided with the city.
“Clearly the city of Solana Beach is open to welcoming overnight visitors,” Steve Kinsey said. “They’re dependent on it. They’re trying very hard to try to find that balance.”
“I agree with the city on this seven-day issue,” Jana Zimmer said. “I understand the staff’s position but this is a small city.”
Solana Beach has “already compromised historically,” she said, “and the residents have reached an equilibrium that they could live. I think that it would be inappropriate to try to push that issue further.”
As a compromise, the city’s two coastal hotels — Holiday Inn Express and Courtyard by Marriott — could be subject to a $30,000 per-room assessment if they decide to convert to other uses. That fee could be waived, Ott said, if the hotels close and remain vacant for 12 months.
“Obviously the city encourages hotel use,” Ott said. “But if hotel use is no longer viable because of the economy we don’t want empty, boarded-up buildings sitting there.”
Directors also noted residents currently offer one-day rentals online.
Another major issue that delayed the city from adopting a Local Coastal Program, or LCP, sooner is sea walls.
Early versions of the plan required removal of all shoreline protection devices by 2081. Now they will be subject to review every 20 years.
According to the Coastal Act, bluff-top owners have the right to protect existing property by installing shoreline protection devices. Environmentalists say they prevent the natural creation of a beach and will eventually eliminate land that belongs to the public.
In Solana Beach, all sea walls are on public property. Bluff-top homeowners who install them currently pay $1,000 per linear foot as a mitigation fee.
The city has 18 months to complete a mitigation fee study, but because it is a statewide issue, staff will work with the Coastal Commission to develop a plan.
Commissioner Dayna Bochco said although she supports the 20-year review plan, “hopefully we’ll come up with a program … to make that more fair and make more sense.”
Any new beachfront development would not be entitled to a sea wall, although that is not an issue since there are essentially no vacant lots along the city’s 1.4-mile coastline.
But any remodel in which more than 50 percent of structural load-bearing walls are removed would be considered new development and subject to the rule.
The 50 percent formula doesn’t apply to interior remodels since most of those walls aren’t load bearing, Ott said. Owners are also allowed to maintain and repair any portion of their property without being subject to the rule.
Ott said the ability to “repair” is key because damage from weather or termites often occurs in load-bearing walls.
An LCP is the basic planning tool used by a city to guide development in its coastal zone. It is required by the California Coastal Act of 1976 to ensure coastal areas remain accessible to the public and are used and developed according to statewide objectives.
Permit authority to review and approve development in a coastal zone is administered by the Coastal Commission until an LCP is adopted. Solana Beach, one of a handful of jurisdictions in the state without an approved LCP, is unique because the entire city is considered a coastal zone.
Solana Beach submitted a draft LCP in 2001, but the Coastal Commission said it was incomplete. A citizens group formed in 2004 and presented the city with a draft compromise document two years later that became the basis for subsequent plans submitted each year from 2006 to 2009.
The LCP submitted in 2009 was deemed complete in August 2010, although city staff continued to revise the document based on comments received from the commission between March 2010 and January 2011.
City Council approved a final draft in June 2011. Commissioners weren’t fully supportive of all aspects of the program but most were satisfied with the overall plan.
“I think 20 years is too long to come back (on sea walls) but I can certainly live with that,” Brian Brennan said.
“I believe that this process has improved dramatically in the last few months,” Zimmer said. “They’re difficult issues.”