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March 10, 2010 > Planning reviews streamlined

Planning reviews streamlined

By Steve Wyant

Event planners should find life a little easier in Milpitas. The city has worked to simplify and expedite the process of obtaining permits for temporary entertainment events. Additionally, certain types of business, traditionally subject to a lengthy and expensive conditional-permit process before being able to proceed, should also receive some relief.

The Milpitas Planning Commission held a public hearing on a proposed amendment to the city's Municipal Code on February 24. Senior Planner Sheldon Ah Sing outlined the proposed amendment regarding streamlining the planning development review process.

"For temporary events, there are resolutions that include provisions for temporary uses and structures. These resolutions can cause some confusion and are not easily accessible to the public because they are not codified as part of the zoning ordinance," Sing explained.

Currently, provisions of the Municipal Code and Planning Commission resolutions dictate the process for obtaining the required permits.

"Entertainment events currently requiring Council's approval could be considered by the Planning Commission Sub-Committee under the proposal. The Sub-Committee is a much less formal review authority and can develop agenda material for a particular scheduled meeting much more quickly. In addition, sidewalk sales and temporary seasonal sales, which currently require Planning Commission Sub-Committee review, under the proposal, can be considered by staff if all of the operational standards in the Zoning Ordinance are met," stated Sing.

The city believes a new, consistent and consolidated review process, will benefit all people organizing temporary entertainment.

Events will be reviewed according to their duration unless they are sidewalk sales or temporary seasonal sales.

According to Sing, under the proposal, events lasting from one to three days can be considered by staff. Events lasting from four to seven days (the maximum time allowable) can be considered by the Planning Commission Sub-Committee. There would be some exceptions through the approval of a conditional use permit for duration, which would be considered by the Planning Commission through a public hearing.

Temporary event promoters should start with the city's Planning Division. As part of the amendment effort, staff is assembling an application and process packet that will walk the applicant through the process.

For some new businesses, the benefits of the amendments are measured in both time and money. Examples of the types of businesses affected include restaurants (without alcohol-service or live entertainment), video rentals, veterinarian clinics, animal grooming, medical support labs and tanning salons. These have required a conditional use permit in the past but will primarily become permitted uses, allowing review by staff, if certain standards are met.

The change came about as staff surveyed the last two years of Planning Commission meeting minutes. They looked for trends that suggested what types of businesses resulted in discussions, and those that did not. Those that did not were deemed likely candidates for a more streamlined process.

According to the staff report, "The majority of the projects suggested by staff for streamlining are processed using private job accounts where the applicant pays for staff time to process their application. For these application types, an applicant will save on average between $2,000 and $3,000, if their project does not require review by the Planning Commission as a public hearing item. The savings directly equate to the amount of time staff spends on the project."

Time savings are equally significant. A process that has taken up to four, or more, months to complete under the conditional use permit can be completed within a few weeks under the streamlined process.

Another aspect of the proposed changes is the creation of a "Recreation & Entertainment Overlay District" to the West of I-880. Applicable to industrial and commercial properties, it does not change the zoning but would promote recreational and entertainment uses. It would expand and add flexibility for other types of entertainment facilities such as amusement parks, conference centers, movie theaters, nightclubs, banquet halls and other recreational facilities.

The commission voted unanimously to adopt the resolution (with minor modifications) and to recommend approval by Council. The next step in the process a first reading of the ordinance at March 16 Council Meeting.

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