Plans for the city to create a subcommittee to review architectural designs and aesthetics of residential and commercial developments are receiving a mixed reaction at the Planning Commission level.
Some commissioners believe the committee would create more bureaucracy and make it more expensive for developers to do business in Los Banos. Others believe that having the committee would unburden city staff and make it easier when projects reach the Planning Commission.
“It’s an enormous waste of time,” said Commissioner Tom Mello at Wednesday’s meeting. “The people that are doing the job right now are doing a great job. This is one more roadblock to development. We don’t need someone to nitpick every little thing. For me, my vote is a big fat ‘N-O.’ ”
City staff is drafting an ordinance that would create an advisory panel that would review developers’ plans and recommend landscaping, color scheme and architectural design. The panel would consist of two City Council members (one being an alternate), two Planning Commission members and Assistant Planner Stacy Elms. The panel would review projects and make recommendations to the Planning Commission.
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City Attorney William Vaughn said staff also plans to use the ordinance to officially give Los Banos’ Project Review Board - consisting of the heads of the police, fire, building and public works departments - some power.
“The Project Review Board, when we took a look at it, is technically limited to whether or not subdividing land is falling under the Subdivision Map Act, not really having the authority to do what they’ve been doing, give you recommendations on commercial property in terms of parking lots, trees, shade.”
Some commissioners have proposed giving more authority to the Project Review Board instead of creating a separate panel.
Commissioner Arkady Faktorovich, who is a retired architect, said when he worked for companies, there would be cities they would not take jobs in because of the bureaucracy that is created by boards similar to what the city is proposing. Faktorovich said companies that will do business in those type cities often provide a lack of diversity in their designs. He said developers take the chance on the subcommittee wanting one thing and the Planning Commission wanting another, adding money and time to getting a project approved.
“You create a cookie-cutter situation precisely because you have those boards, nobody wants to take a chance,” Faktorovich said. “You have to think about the businessman who wants to produce the best possible project for the best possible price.”
Faktorovich said some cities use subcommittees as weapons against developers they do not like.
Tom Spada, the Planning Commission chairman, said he likes the subcommittee idea.
“I see this as a 30 percent review,” Spada said. “It guides the developer to come up with a project that, when it comes here, it’s harmonious with what we all think.”
Spada said he understands Faktorovich’s concern but does not believe that the subcommittee would be used for political payback.
“I don’t think we do that here in Los Banos,” Spada said.
Elms said she and Vaughn will present a draft of the subcommittee ordinance to the Planning Commission on April 23.