CARMEL — With a planning and building docket already saturated with pressing projects, the pursuit of a permanent outdoor dining program in the city of Carmel’s public right of way is taking a backseat.
At a regular meeting Tuesday night, the Carmel City Council voted unanimously against bumping the program up to a list of the city’s top priority projects. Still on a general lineup of initiatives the city hopes to tackle, the City Council’s decision is not a hard stop to the idea. But it does dash desires to see a lasting version of Carmel’s now-disbanded parklet program take shape on city streets anytime soon.
“I really don’t think it’s the time right now,” said Carmel Mayor Dave Potter during Tuesday’s meeting. “I do think that we can do it as a more inclusive project. … (But) this is not something simple that can be done capriciously. It involves a lot of work, so for that reason, I’m going to support leaving the priorities the way they are.”
Suggestions of a permanent outdoor seating program began last year when Potter and Councilman Bobby Richards formed an Outdoor Seating Ad-Hoc Committee to explore how temporary parklets set up for the pandemic could transition into something more longstanding.
Pursuant to finding that durable fix — motivated by an April 20 expiration date for temporary parklets looming overhead — the City Council passed a resolution at its April 5 meeting that asked city staff to return in 30 days with a process to take outdoor seating to the Planning Commission.
Tuesday’s proposal offered a comprehensive summary of next steps the city would need to take to establish seating in the public right of way. The anticipated scope of work included a host of public meetings, amendments to zoning codes, high-level policy decisions, and even consultation with the California Coastal Commission, among other requirements.
“At least a year’s process,” Carmel Community Planning and Building Director Brandon Swanson estimated at Tuesday’s meeting.
The complexity of devoting staff resources to the endeavor in earnest rendered a tepid response from council members with an overarching theme of some time, but not now. Particularly with changes to the city’s building design guidelines on their way.
Over the past few months, the city has begun initial work on updating residential and commercial design guidelines, as well as its zoning code, which has served Carmel for almost 20 years. According to a staff report presented to the City Council in March, the guidelines “need updating due to age and the ever evolving nature of architecture and design.”
Like the suggested outdoor dining program, Swanson promised at least a year of work is needed for the city to see reimagined codes come to fruition. Operating in tandem with consultant Noré Winter, who helped create the city’s first design traditions two decades ago, Swanson explained the breadth of tasks will cover anything from realigning documents with state and federal regulations to imbuing considerations of climate change into guidelines.
“Our ultimate goal is to make these documents more user-friendly for the public and a better tool for the Planning Commission to make sure designs really do conform to the aesthetics and character of the village,” Swanson said in an interview on Friday. “It’s time for a refresh.”
A tall order, Swanson said that making the project a success will not only take consultant support, but also the city’s entire planning staff, a council-appointed Steering Committee, and, especially, input from the community.
“This is a community-based project,” said Swanson, encouraging residents to get involved. “The community is going to have to live with (these guidelines) for the next 10-20 years. … We really want the public to be hands-on and tell us what they want to see.”
With months of outreach and effort devoted to updating guidelines ahead, which were laid out for the City Council Tuesday night, the design traditions project leaves little room for other big undertakings — namely, a permanent outdoor seating program in the public’s right of way.
Rather, council members opted to place priority on updating the city’s general design without adding another year-long endeavor to the mix. But Swanson doesn’t think that’s necessarily a setback, noting the two goals are not mutually exclusive.
“At the end of the day, regardless of whether the city adopts an outdoor seating in the public right of way program, we are going to consider what accessory structures or furniture or faces of buildings should look like in the commercial district as part of the design update,” he said. “There might be minor tweaks (clarifying) what is allowed and what isn’t, but for a philosophical purpose, we’re doing the job we’re supposed to do to have an outdoor seating program in the future.”
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