Morro Bay council rejects building moratorium proposed by residents' group

Morro Bay
Morro Bay jmellom@thetribunenews.com

A Morro Bay citizen group hoping to persuade city leaders to impose a building moratorium faced a setback Tuesday night.

The City Council voted 4-1 to deny the building moratorium requested by a citizen group concerned with new development that’s out of character with other housing in the community — in particular large homes that block views.

The council considered a request by the Neighborhood Compatibility Coalition, called NECCO, a Morro Bay grassroots group, which requested a 45-day moratorium for the city to hammer out an emergency policy.

The group is concerned with new single-family housing developments that they believe are excessive in size, bulk and scale and that block views for neighboring homes.

The group hoped the council would adopt a moratorium to establish an ordinance that would put in place policies aimed at addressing those issues in light of existing planning guidelines that some say are confusing and can lead to disagreement between builders and residents about what is appropriate construction.

The Morro Bay Planning Commission is in the middle of considering interim neighborhood compatibility design guidelines, which would help define appropriate building standards for specific Morro Bay neighborhoods.

Those guidelines are expected to be completed, with community input, and presented to the City Council on June 9.

“I have put a lot of thought into this, and I think we’re acting in the best interest of the entire community,” Mayor Jamie Irons said.

Councilman Matt Makowetski said he’s in favor of long-term planning to address the issue, but he also recommended a halt to the building and permitting process.

“Neighborhood compatibility and guidelines are incredibly important,” Makowetski said. “We need a slowdown.”

The council also unanimously voted to commit to completing its General Plan and Local Coastal Plan update within three years, which also would better define building standards.

“I don’t think three years is pie in the sky to get the General Plan and Local Coastal Plan updated,” Irons said. “An emergency ordinance and 45-day moratorium will only take away from staff time to get the interim design guidelines done.”

A controversial 6,000-square-foot proposed expansion project on 1000 Ridgeway St. was denied by the council in the fall after an appeal of a Planning Commission decision.

“What we heard from both the applicant and the appellant at that time is that they wanted clean guidelines,” Councilwoman Christine Johnson said. “They said, ‘Give us something we can work with so we know what to build.’ We have heard you, and we’re working as fast as we possibly can to get design guidelines done.”

About 15 people spoke in public comment Tuesday, with arguments on both sides.

Proponents of the moratorium demanded immediate attention on the issue to avoid ruining what some called Morro Bay’s “quaint” and “eclectic” character.

“I’ve noticed a dramatic change in my neighborhood in Morro Heights,” said

Jason Riley, a homeowner there. “From my perspective, a house built in an incompatible way could affect us for 50 years. Let’s come together now and finalize guidelines, and for that reason I support the moratorium.”

Opponents of the moratorium argued it would hurt the construction business and unfairly cater to NECCO.

Former Morro Bay Planning Commissioner Paul Nagy said so few projects are submitted each year for new development that a moratorium didn’t make sense. He cited an average of about 15 new housing units per year over the past decade, with a total of about 6,500 homes in the city.

“A moratorium is unfair to those projects in the pipeline,” Nagy said.