While PEDC weighs its decision on a minimum F.A.R for downtown, Grocery Outlet may look elsewhere
After nearly two hours of staff presentations, board discussion, and public comment at Tuesday’s Mammoth Planning and Economic Development Commission (PEDC) Meeting, commissioners decided not to make a recommendation to Town Council regarding a minimum Floor Area Ratio (F.A.R) for development projects within the Town of Mammoth Lakes (TOML). This is the fourth time that the commission has postponed a vote on the matter and asked town staff for additional information about the topic.
According to a staff report from December 2016, F.A.R is equal to the total floor area of a building divided by the total area of the lot on which it is located. Imposing a minimum F.A.R would require a zoning code amendment. Staff presented several options that included imposing a minimum FAR of either 0.5 or 0.75 on all or portions of the existing commercial zoning districts, with most of the discussion focusing on the downtown district.
Planning and Economic Development Manager Sandra Moberly reported at the March 14 meeting that the town is currently processing a design review application for a Grocery Outlet in Mammoth Lakes. The grocery chain is seeking to develop land at 37 and 77 Old Mammoth Road. Currently, there is no minimum F.A.R requirement at that site, and the proposal is for a building with an F.A.R of 0.3. Moberly said that if a 0.75 minimum FAR were imposed, the site would have to be developed as a two story building. Only twenty parking spaces could be accommodated on site, requiring either underground parking or off-site parking. Moberly reported that, if a 0.5 F.A.R were imposed, all of the parking requirements for the store could be met on site (if it were 2 stories).
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA) Vice President of Development Tom Hodges gave public comment at Tuesday’s meeting, saying MMSA supports a 0.75 minimum FAR across all commercial zones in the TOML. “We live in the highlight of strip malls of Southern California right now. We’ve got to take a stand here… every time we under-develop a site, we are committing to living with that decision for the next 50 years,” said Hodges.
Realtor Matthew Lehman told The Commission that imposing a minimum FAR would push out small property owners and businesses from the downtown corridor, ultimately pushing the town further away from its desired goal of a walkable main street.
A minimum FAR would require developers to create building space where they might otherwise provide outdoor parking. According to Lehman, underground parking is prohibitively expensive. “The quote I’ve heard is that it costs about $50,000 per parking space.” At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners discussed the possibility of requiring in lieu parking fees from developers to provide communal off-site parking within walking distance of Main Street. Lehman said, “If you build a store, you need that parking right away, not whenever it gets done.” Lehman said developers would be right to distrust the town’s promise that any in-lieu fees would be allocated to construct a parking structure. “Look at the Village. We have to finish that project. It’s just not practical to have your entire town laid out like Disneyland.”