PACIFIC GROVE — A move to define a height limit of commercial projects in Pacific Grove has some residents crying foul days before the Planning Commission is due to discuss different ways to determine how tall is tall.
Alyson Hunter, the senior planner for the city, said Thursday’s Planning Commission agenda item is only to discuss heights of large, sloped commercial projects and not necessarily the American Tin Cannery hotel project.
“The critical component of this is that it is a general discussion on how to define height,” she said. “It’s simply an attempt to clarify height definitions in our own code. It’s gotten out of hand and people are up in arms.”
The developer, El Segundo-based Comstock Properties, is proposing a 225-room, two-wing hotel on the 5.59 acres that will include 20,000 square feet of retail, a restaurant, lounge and meeting spaces, on parcels now occupied by American Tin Cannery Outlets at Ocean View Boulevard and Eardley Avenue — just a stone’s throw from the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Hunter’s report to the commissioners, however, does mention the Tin Cannery project by name, but only in the context of mechanical apparatuses, called appurtenances, such as heating and air-conditioning units that are affixed to the tops of buildings. Their height limit is 8 additional feet from the top of a structure.
But Anthony Ciani, a licensed architect and resident of Pacific Grove, said it is disingenuous to say it’s not about the American Tin Cannery project. He is critical of both the subject and the way in which the height issue was attached to the Planning Commission agenda.
Ciani points to the Tin Cannery project originally being slated to be taken up at Thursday’s meeting, but was then moved to Feb. 11. He considers a discussion on the height of the Tin Cannery project — even though the city says it is not about any specific project — to be part of a discussion that is appropriate for the Feb. 11 meeting when the project will officially be placed on the agenda.
If the height discussion at Thursday’s meeting is, as he believes, centered on the Tin Cannery, then it was not properly noticed.
“I believe a discussion on height limits is a good idea but it should be done in a fully noticed workshop where you bring interested members of the community and all the information needed to reach a consensus,” Ciani said.
Any Tin Cannery item on an agenda needs to be noticed to everyone living within a 100-yard radius of the project as well as individuals on certain boards or commissions and organizations, he said. There was not proper noticing of the height-limit discussion, he said. But Hunter was firm.
“We are not analyzing the American Tin Cannery project,” she said about Thursday’s meeting. The noticing was well within the state open meeting law, known colloquially as the Brown Act.
Ciani was also critical of the concept of what the staff report refers to as “averaging” a height. The maximum height limit in Pacific Grove, barring any exception granted by the Planning Commission, is 40 feet from the base of the building to the top. To Ciani’s mind, there is no interpretation needed.
“This has already been established,” he said. “It’s codified, it’s statutory, why are we interpreting something that is statutory?”
Well, because, Hunter said, Pacific Grove doesn’t often see large commercial projects and the current definition of height “lends itself to smaller residential development, not to large lots with significant grade changes,” she said.
But Ciani and other opponents to the project say altering the definition of height is little more than a concession to the Tin Cannery developers. He said he did “simple arithmetic” and found that the proposed height of the hotel project exceeds Pacific Grove’s 40-foot limit.
The height issue is just one of many points that has a vocal group of residents concerned. Traffic congestion and the disruptive effects construction would have on the nearby seal population at Hopkins Marine Station are two more worries for some residents.
The virtual Planning Commission meeting can be viewed at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/81553199112 and begins at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Contributed by local news sources