Progress made in General Plan talks

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Progress made in General Plan talks
« on: February 28, 2004, 18:25:36 »
The Palm Desert City Council resolved several issues in its General Plan on Friday by bypassing discussion on its controversial land use designations for the northern part of the city.

On Friday morning, during its second General Plan hearing in as many days, the council sped through a number of the plan’s policy elements with little fanfare.

That will free council members to continue discussing proposed changes to the plan’s land use element at their next meeting, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.

"We got through (five) different chunks of it that are now out the door," Councilman Buford Crites said after the hearing.

After making a few changes and additions, the council unanimously approved the following elements: circulation, police and fire protection, schools and libraries, water/sewer/utility and public buildings and facilities.

Those elements contain policies that will be used to help guide the city’s decision-making over the next two decades.

"There’s not a lot of difference of opinion on those elements," noted Councilwoman Jean Benson.

The approvals pave the way for the issue that’s been taking up a good deal of the city’s time during the General Plan revision process: the university park planning area.

The university park planning area is a stretch of desert that encompasses about 2,000 acres in the north part of the city, near the Palm Desert Campus of California State University, San Bernardino on Cook Street.

The Palm Desert campuses of Cal State and the University of California, Riverside are taking shape on some of the land, and the Marriott’s Shadow Ridge timeshare resort occupies real estate near the corner of Monterey Avenue and Frank Sinatra Drive. Much of the planning area is undeveloped.

The City Council is working to prescribe a future for the rest of that land. But finding the right housing blend has been a tall order.

On Feb. 26, the council began consideration of a proposal shaped by Councilman Jim Ferguson. Ferguson said he got help on the plan from Councilman Richard Kelly. The proposal seeks to give the city more flexibility when it comes to fulfilling its housing goals for that area.

A small portion of the land in the university park area -- less than 5 percent of the land between Frank Sinatra Drive and Interstate 10 -- is designated for high-density housing. High density housing would allow buildings like apartment and condominium complexes of 10 to 22 units per acre. The latest proposal would designate that land as medium-density, like duplexes and single-family homes on smaller lots (four to 10 units per acre).

Developers could apply for a high-density project on any land zoned medium-density in the area north of Frank Sinatra Drive, if they promise to fulfill certain criteria, to be set by the city.

"The developer has the incentive to do something better," Kelly said. "It’s a great way to go."

Benson said, "I think that allows for a good compromise."

The council is tentatively expecting to wind up their deliberations over the course of two more meetings. "I’d like to get the rest of this stuff done," Crites said, holding up his thick copy of the General Plan draft, during the hearing.

If the council finishes with two more meetings on the current schedule the plan could be finalized at the meeting set for March 15.