SJC Residents Deserve to Know Real Impacts from Development

 Guest Column
                                                                            By Michael Laux

There is a lot of talk about the size and impact of various development proposals in the downtown area. The plans are available on the City website, and the residents are encouraged to study them to understand what these projects will look like. There is a problem with this.

For most people, including those in the building trade, it’s challenging to determine what the size and mass will be in relation to the surrounding structures, and the neighborhood in general. Currently the City of San Juan Capistrano does not require that development plans include "shadow elevations" (where surrounding buildings are drawn to scale in the background), or "story pole staking".

Story pole staking (SPS) is probably the best way for a community to see exactly the mass and scale of the building(s) being proposed. You’ve probably seen a certified SPS array with strings and streamers that show how big a building will be in its actual setting. All of our neighboring cities require it for commercial buildings (some for residential). It takes all of the guesswork out of trying to take two-dimensional plans and imagine what it will look like in three dimensions on the building site.

The cost of this service is miniscule in relation to the developers’ planning costs, and it should be part of our planning process. SPS also provides another valuable function by giving notice to residents that a project is being proposed for the community, and here is what it’s going to look like.

Developers usually want to minimize what the actual impact of their project will have on the community. One way they try to do this is to build a model of the project. If you’ve ever been to a time-share presentation, you’ve seen an architectural model in the sales office. They look great, but they offer no context to the surrounding neighborhood. It’s just a sales tool.

Another aspect that cities depend on is the builder’s traffic study which always, unsurprisingly, supports the project. Have you ever seen a traffic study by a developer conclude that the giant parking lot is going to ruin the neighborhood with gridlock? Here is where a peer reviewed, city-wide traffic study would show what the existing systems can handle.

If we are going to be so naïve as to allow developers to rewrite our Specific and General Plans, we need to see what we are signing up for. Once it’s built, we don’t get a second chance.

Giving our planners, commissioners, and residents the tools to make an accurate and informed decision is the hallmark of fairness and transparency. Residents are entitled to this.

Michael Laux lives with his wife Holly on Los Rios Street. He is a builder in Laguna Beach, and proud to be a Rotarian.


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Every resident has the right to know the development of their area and they should have every single info about the locality before they shift to that place.

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