Staff report dated December 6, 2000, was presented pertaining to a request to allow the use of an existing office building for an office for a religious institution on property located at 1645 West Valencia Drive (547-663 feet east and 538-593 feet north of the intersection of Valencia Drive and Brookhurst Road) (M-P-40 zone) (Categorically exempt under Section 15301 of CEQA Guidelines).
Chief Planner Rosen reported that the applicant, Grace Ministries International, desired to utilize one of the on-site buildings of the former Con-Agra (Hunt-Wesson) property, for an administrative office use. The property is zoned "Industrial", thus a CUP is required. An on-site inspection by staff revealed that Con-Agra is still using a portion of the site for its continuing research and development, and will vacate the building after the first of the year. A slide of the proposed building was displayed.
When Grace Ministries was negotiating to acquire the property from Con-Agra, staff advised both parties of the potential change in use of the property. There were numerous ideas for the overall reuse of the property, but nothing definitive had been presented to staff. Staff consistently requested that Grace Ministries provide a complete application for the proposed reuse of the entire property, a master planned development of the campus.
Staff was unable to support the Conditional Use Permit application at this time because it was not consistent with the City's Municipal Code, the Fullerton General Plan, or state law. The Municipal Code requires that findings be made proving that the proposed use is compatible with other types of permitted uses in the surrounding area. Staff could not determine if the proposed use was compatible with surrounding areas, or the General Plan, because staff did not have a complete picture of the entire reuse of the property. Further, staff was unsure whether the proposed project contributed to, or detracted from, diversification and expansion of the City's economic base, which is a key factor of the General Plan, in support of the industrial and commercial base of the city. With regards to state law and State Supreme Court rulings, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) states that a city cannot divide a project into smaller parts in order to avoid preparation of CEQA documents. This proposal, staff believes, is one "part" of a larger application, which staff had been told to expect sometime after the first of the year.
Based upon these facts, staff recommended denial of the Conditional Use Permit application without prejudice. The applicant may then reapply at any time as part of their complete application for the entire reuse of the property, or the CUP itself at another time. Chief Planner Rosen added that, should the Planning Commission choose to approve the CUP application, staff had provided an alternative set of findings which needed to be made for the approval.
Commissioner Crane questioned whether the Commission could legally act on this proposal, due to the fact that the complete master plan had not yet been submitted. Deputy City Attorney Barlow answered that the Commission could legally approve the CUP request, if the required findings could be made. She cautioned, however, that this would be a "piecemeal" application, since it involves only one building, and the applicant had made it clear that they would seek other uses presently not permitted on the site. Should the Commission approve the CUP, it would be likely that a legal challenge could be instigated, and it would be difficult for the city to defend the granting of the CUP for this use in the absence of a final site plan proposal from the applicant.
Commissioner Munson asked if CEQA challenges were common, and who would make such a challenge. Deputy City Attorney Barlow stated that anyone could bring a challenge under CEQA, because it is a statute which requires environmental review of projects, and such challenges are common in the courts. Commissioner Munson also inquired whether it was staff's opinion that the applicant was "piecemealing" the project to avoid preparation of an Environmental Impact Report. Chief Planner Rosen replied that staff was unsure as to whether this was the applicant's intent, and clarified that the City, not the applicant, was mandated by state law to prepare an appropriate environmental document. The City is anticipating that an EIR will be prepared for the entire project, once it is presented to staff. Chief Planner Rosen reiterated that a normal CUP application for an office use would not require any environmental documents; however, staff is aware of a larger project for this site at some future date, due to conversations with the applicant.
Commissioner Simons asked what the consequences would be if the CUP application were approved at this time, but in the future the larger master plan was not. Chief Planner Rosen explained that conditional use permits run with the land, thus the applicant would be allowed to utilize the building for an office use.
Chairman LeQuire questioned: (1) how long would it take for a master plan to be developed; and (2) could the applicant utilize the office building while this plan was being prepared? Chief Planner Rosen clarified that staff was recommending denial of the CUP application (without prejudice), therefore, the applicant would not be able to utilize the building as an office in the interim period.
Director Dudley added that in April of the past year, staff met with the applicant and a number of potential uses were discussed. Staff was informed that a master plan would be provided by June, and, to date, has not yet been received.
Commissioner Godfrey asked how staff makes the determination whether or not an office use is an "industrial office use." Chief Planner Rosen informed him that the code has a list of which types of uses are allowed in the industrial zone, and any office use must have a relationship to industrial-related activities. Further, religious uses are allowed in an industrial zone, with a Conditional Use Permit. However, the CUP application before the Commission was for an office use, not a religious use. Commissioner Godfrey expressed concern that the City was not "singling out" this particular entity who desired to simply utilize office space, where an office had been used in the past.
Director Dudley advised that the City attorney had determined that a Conditional Use Permit was required for this application. The Commission could make the necessary findings to approve the application, and staff has supplied such findings, in addition to suggested conditions of approval. Although it was not a part of the discussion, staff was aware that there will be a master plan for significant religious use of this property. Staff was attempting to clarify that the CUP application before the Commission was only for an office use, and no church-related activities, e.g., weddings, parties, church services, etc., will be allowed. The applicant must prepare a master plan for a zone change, and other applications, and the applicant would then be able to utilize the land in such a manner. Staff could not make the necessary findings under CEQA law, to recommend approval of the application at this time, but the Commission had the authority to approve it, if they so desired. Chief Planner Rosen stated that, should the Commission approve the CUP application, staff added a condition which stated that no religious uses shall be allowed at any time, to make clear what the CUP entailed.
Commissioner Godfrey insisted that the City was anticipating that because the applicant was a church, they need a Conditional Use Permit to occupy an office building in an M-P zone. Deputy City Attorney Barlow clarified that it was not because the applicant was a religious institution, but because they are not an accessory use to an industrial use.
Commissioner Simons noted that the conditions of approval state that: "no public or private receptions, assemblies, or any group activities shall be conducted in the buildings or on the grounds…."
Commissioner Crane informed the Commission that he had previously viewed a proposed master plan for the site at a Chamber of Commerce industrial committee meeting. He added that this would not affect his vote on the Conditional Use Permit.
Public hearing opened.
Bill Gillespie, GM Associates, gave a brief history of the site in question. The initial application by Grace Ministries International was made in January, 2000. In that application, a very broad plan for the site was described. The applicant subsequently received a letter from Chief Planner Rosen, dated January 20, 2000 which stated that staff could not accept the application because of inadequate information. A notification was then received from Insignia, a real estate consultant, involving opening of escrow for the property. This notification was dated June 26th, and at that time a request was made to occupy the office building. On July 20, 2000, the City Attorney sent a letter noting that a Conditional Use Permit was required for an office use, not associated with an industrial use, in an industrial zone. It was also suggested that a master plan concept be presented.
The applicant proceeded with steps to convert the Con-Agra office use to Grace Ministries' office use, due to the fact that Grace Ministries had purchased the entire parcel, and had its office at the Melodyland facility in Anaheim on a month-to-month lease. Mr. Gillespie pointed out the office building on a vicinity sketch, and the research and development building presently occupied by Con-Agra, Inc. He reiterated that Grace Ministries would only utilize the building as an office use, and would not conduct any religious activities on site until the master plan was received and approved by the City. He gave a brief overview of the proposed master plan, which the applicant understands will require a zone change, general plan revision and another Conditional Use Permit. Also, the present parking facilities would be inadequate for a church sanctuary, church school, and other church activities. Mr. Gillespie assured the Commission that a master plan would be presented to staff during the first quarter of 2001.
Commissioner Simons inquired whether Grace Ministries had attempted to secure a temporary office facility, since Melodyland had informed them that they would need to find another location for their administrative offices. Mr. Gillespie deferred the question to Mr. Choye, administrator for Grace Ministries, International.
Mr. Choye stated that, while an exact date for vacation of the premises had not been given, they were aware that Disneyland was aggressively purchasing property in the surrounding area, and it would only be a matter of time before Melodyland was purchased. Further, they had not attempted to secure another location for an office use, because Grace Ministries had been under the impression, after discussion with the Deputy City Attorney, that a Conditional Use Permit could be granted for the corporate office building.
Commissioner Crane was uncomfortable with making the findings as presented by staff. He referenced the first finding that "The subject request constitutes a complete application of the intended use of the property by Grace Ministries International" and asked Mr. Gillespie if this would be a true statement. Mr. Gillespie replied that the CUP application constituted the intended use for the office building "property", but did not include the entire parcel. Secondly, the applicant had been informed by city staff, in the advertising for this hearing, that the CUP application, for the office use only, was a complete application and categorically exempt under CEQA Guidelines. Chief Planner Rosen clarified that at the time the advertising had been prepared, staff was still evaluating the project, and found the project to be exempt. Upon further evaluation, however, staff found that the project was not categorically exempt. Chief Planner Rosen read from the California Environmental Quality Act book, which defined the meaning of a "project." Staff was not satisfied at this time, that a Conditional Use Permit application would not be received for a church school or sanctuary.
Commissioner Godfrey explained that the first finding the Commission must make: "that the subject request constitutes a complete application of the intended use" was difficult because if the CUP applied to the entire property, and not just the footprint of the office building, the application of CEQA guidelines apply and the CUP necessitates either an impact for the "entire property" or an exemption because of one building. Until the full plan is presented, it is difficult for the Commission to make findings.
Mr. Gillespie clarified that the applicant was following the instructions of the letter received by the Deputy City Attorney.
Deputy City Attorney Barlow contended that the applicant misunderstood the intent of the letter, which was if the applicant was only intending to utilize the office building, they could apply for a CUP. However, if a future plan was proposed for the entire site, there were other requirements which had to be met.
At this point, Mr. Gillespie read a portion of the July 20, 2000, letter from the Deputy City Attorney.
Commissioner Godfrey suggested that Condition No. 3, which states: "The office building shall be used for typical office purposes only" should be specifically defined so there would be no misunderstanding as to which building it was referring.
Deputy City Attorney Barlow reiterated that it was not the intent of the letter to state that the applicant had satisfied the requirements to obtain a CUP. The applicant had made it clear that there was a larger plan proposed for the property, and because of this, she felt that the City would be in violation of CEQA guidelines if a CUP were granted at this time.
Commissioner Godfrey expressed concern that the applicant did own the property and should be allowed to use it for administrative purposes while the remainder of the master plan was being prepared. He asked if the applicant could guarantee that all final drawings and plans would be completed within a six-month period, and Mr. Gillespie answered affirmatively. Commissioner Godfrey asked if this request could be exempt from CEQA Guidelines, and Director Dudley reminded him that staff had already determined that this request, if it stood alone, was categorically exempt.
Commissioner Simons pointed out that the letter from the City Attorney's office clearly stated: "If Grace Ministries International would like to begin using the property for its offices, it will be required to first apply, and obtain approval for, a Conditional Use permit in that regard. In addition, as discussed. Grace Ministries International will need to satisfy additional procedural prerequisites in order to conduct other activities." He felt this was a key issue of the letter, and Deputy City Attorney Barlow concurred that the requirements were not intended to be sequential, but all-inclusive. Commissioner Simons inquired whether GM Associates would be preparing the master plan, and Mr. Gillespie answered affirmatively. Mr. Gillespie clarified that a master plan for the property would be submitted during the first quarter of 2001, although it would not involve all construction documents necessary to obtain building permits. Commissioner Simons felt it would be advisable for the applicant to find a temporary location for the office building until the master plan was received.
Director Dudley explained that the Planning Commission might not hear the General Plan Revision and Zoning Amendment until as late as summer 2001. Staff had not yet reviewed the proposed master plan. If staff found that an Environmental Impact Report must be prepared, this would take additional time for mandatory review periods, etc. A fiscal impact analysis must also be prepared, and this meant that the applicant would be required to locate a temporary office for a longer period of time than 30-60 days.
Commissioner Godfrey felt that because a finalized master plan may take up to a year or longer, he was reluctant to deny the CUP application allowing Grace Ministries to utilize the office building.
The following persons spoke in opposition to the project:
William Phillips, 2360 Camino Escondido
Patrick Toulias, 2476 Coventry Circle
Enrique Conejos, 1635 West Avenue
The points of opposition were:
- The church use will affect surrounding businesses
- Increased traffic will occur
- With only 50 people utilizing a five-story building, others may utilize the building for non-approved uses
- Loss of tax revenue with church use
- Loss of jobs from changing an industrial use to a church use-should keep the property industrial
- Have official traffic studies been conducted, or merely information given by church personnel
Wayne Wedin, reported that due to his study of the proposed project, it will be a compatible use with surrounding areas, and efforts are underway to present a master plan that will show an economic benefit to the city, and community benefits city wide.
Seeing no further speakers, Chairman LeQuire closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Godfrey favored the CUP application as presented and felt that the additional 50 people who would occupy this building would not impact the surrounding area.
Commissioner Simons was concerned with the overall project and what effect the master plan would have on revenues, surrounding businesses, residents, and traffic. It was his desire to review the entire plan, and could not support the project at this time.
Commissioner Munson felt the project could have been better presented to avoid confusion. He concurred that the office space could be used by Grace Ministries, until such time that the master plan was presented, subject to another public hearing. He encouraged staff to meet with the applicant in an attempt to determine what would be best for the city, while protecting rights of the property owner.
Commissioner Sandoval expressed disappointment of not being presented with an entire plan. She inquired whether, if the CUP was granted, it would have to be modified or replaced if the master plan, including zone change, was approved. Deputy City Attorney Barlow stated that if the zoning was changed, a new CUP would not be required. If a zone change were not granted, the CUP would run with the land, including all conditions. Commissioner Sandoval voted in favor of granting the Conditional Use Permit, adding a condition which specified that only this particular building be occupied.
Commissioner Crane asked if adding the condition would affect the operation of the existing Con-Agra business, and staff said that it would not. The applicant added that Con-Agra had a lease to occupy office space until August, 2001. Commissioner Crane, while in favor of the concept of the proposed project as a whole, could not support the CUP application because it was in violation of CEQA guidelines.
Chairman LeQuire also favored the long-term use of the entire project, but because of the questionable adherence to CEQA guidelines, he suggested adding two conditions which require that only one more hearing be held on this project, and that a time frame be placed on the applicant to present the master plan. Commissioner Godfrey reminded him that adding such conditions would be against public policy and unconstitutional.
Because he had already seen a conceptual master plan on the project, Commissioner Crane suggested that the matter be continued to the next Planning Commission meeting to allow the applicant to present more detailed information on the master plan. Director Dudley cautioned that the Commission could not legally have a hearing on a master plan which had not officially been submitted, and the matter must be noticed as a public hearing. The master plan was not relevant to the CUP application, except regarding the CEQA issue.
Chairman LeQuire stated that he would be willing to support the CUP application, but not on an "open-ended" basis.
Commissioner Godfrey inquired if a CUP could be issued for only one year. Deputy City Attorney Barlow reported that if the applicant concurred, a time limit could be placed on the Conditional Use Permit.
Chief Planner Rosen asked if staff would have to instigate revocation proceedings at the end of one year, and Deputy City Attorney Barlow answered affirmatively. Mr. Gillespie indicated that the applicant would concur with the one-year sunset clause on the CUP.
Commissioner Simons felt that it would be difficult for the two new Commissioners who would be appointed in 2001, to revoke a CUP on which they had not heard testimony. Further, he wished to deny the CUP application without prejudice.
Commissioner Crane was still uncomfortable with the CEQA requirement, and cautioned the Commission about the liability issue, particularly since members of the public had already voiced their opposition to the project.
There was a consensus of the Commission for approval. The title of Resolution No. 6905 APPROVING a Conditional Use Permit to allow the use of an existing office building in an industrial zone for an office for a non-industrial related office use, was read and further reading was waived. MOTION by Commissioner Godfrey, seconded and CARRIED by a four-to-two vote, with Commissioners Crane and Simons voting no, that said Resolution be ADOPTED AS AMENDED as follows: (1) Condition No. 3 to be modified to add the word ONLY to the beginning of the condition, and the words 1645 West Valencia Drive, to the end of the condition; (2) adding Condition No. 9 stating that the Conditional Use Permit shall expire on December 13, 2001; and (3) changing the words "religious institution" from the title of the Resolution and adding the words "non-industrial use".
Chief Planner Rosen reported that this item may be appealed within ten days.