LONG BEACH — After more than four hours of often contradictory testimony, planning commissioners voted Thursday to recommend that the City Council limit building heights in Naples and Belmont Shore to 28 feet, in effect two stories.
Current regulations allow three-story homes in both areas, plus roof structures and parapets that can amount to a partial fourth story. The City Council is expected to review the recommendation Dec. 3.
Planning officials said that the issue of residential building heights in the two areas--where lots are small and property values high--has been one of the most widely debated community zoning issues in the city's history. It has pitted space-hungry young families against more established residents who fear losing sunlight and privacy to three-story neighbors.
In Belmont Shore, it sparked rival petition drives. Two weeks ago, the Belmont Shore Homeowner and Business Assn. presented the Planning Commission with about 1,000 signatures of people who support a three-story limit. A group led by Belmont Shore resident Jean Chapier retaliated with signatures of 850 Belmont Shore residents who favor a two-story limit.
But despite the petitions, hours of testimony, hundreds of letters, a mail survey by Councilwoman Jan Hall and a yearlong investigation by a committee of Hall appointees, planning commissioners said before the vote that they still weren't really certain what the majority of residents in each area wants.
They explained their decision as a conservative approach that would "preserve the existing character of the area." Preserving existing character is a goal of the Local Coastal Plan, which governs development in both areas.
"I think the community is divided right in two," said Commissioner Nancy Lattimer, referring to Belmont Shore. "I personally would not be for (a two-story limit) but I think until the young people there can educate the community, we should stick to the (Local Coastal Plan) and the more conservative limit."
Commissioners had less difficulty with a third issue: building height on the Peninsula. Residents, planning staff and committee members agreed that the existing 35-foot limit, which allows three stories, is acceptable.
Building height was actually one of 24 zoning ordinance issues raised by Hall's advisory committee that were the subjects of decisions by the commission on Thursday.
Others dealt with the way building height is calculated, setbacks, balconies and lot coverage. Together, they are expected to close loopholes in the ordinance, reduce building bulk and protect the privacy and views of neighbors.