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Barrio Perimeter district
Pictured is a multi-story residential development at Oak Avenue and Madison Street in the Barrio Perimeter district. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Carlsbad City Council grants itself total authority on all Barrio permits, development

CARLSBAD — The Carlsbad City Council amended the Village and Barrio Master Plan during its Feb. 16 meeting, granting itself complete authority over approving permits and development plans in the Barrio neighborhood.

The master plan — approved in two parts in 2018 and 2019 — was amended to change the approval authority from the city’s Planning Commission to the Council following a 3-1 vote, with Councilman Keith Blackburn voting no and Mayor Matt Hall recused.

Aspects of development now under the council’s purview include site development plans, conditional use permits, coastal development permits and variances processed in the Barrio.

The newly affected areas include the Barrio perimeter, center and Village-Barrio other districts.

“I’ve heard loud and clear from our residents needing to hold (the council) accountable on certain things,” Councilwoman Cori Schumacher said. “And development, at least in my district, is the No. 1 priority.”

During its April 15, 2020, meeting, the Planning Commission proposed its own changes to the approval process for the master plan. The commission requested it holds authority over approvals for the Village Center, Village General, Hospitality, Freeway Commercial and Pine-Tyler mixed-use districts, while the council would take up any appeal in those districts.

Jeff Murphy, the city’s community development director, said the request was consistent with state law; would streamline the process by two to three months; reduce development uncertainty, and save $3,000 in staff time per permit.

Murphy said the Planning Commission is responsible for reviewing similar permits in other parts of the city. According to Murphy, this proposal is more in line with state law by pushing down authority at a municipal level, especially for housing projects.

“I don’t believe in micromanaging,” Councilman Keith Blackburn. “For the council to hear every application, if we don’t trust our Planning Commission, then we need to replace them with people we do trust instead of taking responsibilities away from them.”

Over the past three years, 24 permits were processed by the city, with 13 in front of the council, 11 by the commission and one permit denied. An appeal, which can come from residents, costs at least $800, according to City Planner Don Neu.

“The Planning Commission’s recommendation … instead of going to two hearings you go to one hearing,” Murphy said. “If we can simplify and reduce the number of public hearings and steps a developer has to go through, that’s what we’re talking about impediments.”

The first part of the master plan, which covered about 60% of the area, was approved in 2018, while the remaining 40%, was approved in 2019 because it was in the coastal zone and required approval from the California Coastal Commission.

In June 2019, the Coastal Commission did not approve that part of the plan and sent it back to the city with 23 modifications. The city then cleaned those up and the commission approved it several months later.

One source of contention during the process was height limits in the Village being increased to 45 feet (the previous Village Master Plan set the limit at 40 feet). Parking, lighting in the Barrio, traffic calming and bike lanes have also been issues discussed prior to the City Council approving the master plan.

“The role of the Planning Commission is as an advisory body … especially in such an important area,” Councilwoman Teresa Acosta said. “I think things should come to the City Council. The City Council should be and is designed to be the final decision-making authority on important planning decisions.”