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The complicated dance playing out at the American Tin Cannery.

Good afternoon. 

Pam Marino here. In my years as a newspaper reporter, I have covered a lot of development projects as they wind their way through committees, planning commissions and city councils or boards of supervisors. 

It’s a dance in a way, a push and pull between what a developer wants, what city and state codes require and what the public will support. It’s a complicated dance and not always easily understood.

Pacific Grove is engaged in that dance right now with developer Comstock Homes, operating as Pacific Grove Manager LLC, for a proposed 225-room resort hotel and commercial project at the American Tin Cannery. 

In addition to the hotel, Comstock is proposing a restaurant, bars, meeting rooms and 20,000 square feet of commercial space facing Ocean View Boulevard. The transient occupancy and sales taxes could be a financial lifesaver for the city coming out of the pandemic. 

Despite support for a hotel project on the site back in 2016P.G. voters approved by 60 percent Measure X changing the zoning to allow for a hotel on the site—a group of residents today are vehemently opposed to the hotel.

They’ve collected over 20,000 signatures on a change.org petition against the hotel because they claim, among other problems, that it could irreparably harm the harbor seal pupping beach across the street, next to the Hopkins Marine Station. 

For months they’ve held protests on the street decrying the impact to the environment, including the harbor seals and the removal of trees. (The city would require the developer to replace the trees.) In December they took their case to the Pacific Grove Architectural Review Board, a group of citizens appointed by the City Council. The board was sympathetic to residents and recommended the project be reduced in scope and size.

Tomorrow, Thursday April 8, residents are planning to take their protest to the P.G. Planning Commission, which will meet at 6pm on Zoom.

Here’s part of the complicated dance: Tomorrow night’s agenda item isn’t about the hotel project itself, but it does involve the site and how it’s regulated under the city’s Local Coastal Project Implementation Plan. (That plan was approved by the California Coastal Commission and the P.G. City Council. It allows the city to review and approve projects within the coastal zone.)

city staff report states the move is to clear up an oversight at the request of Coastal Commission staff. The city’s implementation plan only sets design standards for a portion of the project site. (It’s an inconsistency that staff say in the report they can’t explain. The implementation plan was reviewed extensively by both the city and the Coastal Commission before it was approved one year ago.)

In addition to fixing that inconsistency, city staff are also proposing to clarify the height exemption to allow for mechanical equipment and roof access, adding eight feet in some areas to the 40-feet limit. 

The residents see a more sinister scenario. In an email to the media entitled “Please consider covering the BIG LIE regarding the proposed resort for Pacific Grove’s American Tin Cannery Site!” a group leader, Sally Aberg, states opponents believe the city is attempting to do an end run around the recommendations made by the ARB. In a separate email to supporters, Aberg charges the city wants to change the city’s code to fit the project “as is,” at the original size and scope as suggested by Comstock.

It’s not that simple. The inconsistency that exists on paper has to be resolved, no matter who the developer is. The discussion over a height limit for rooftop mechanical equipment is pretty standard among development projects no matter what city is involved.

There’s also still a very long way to go before Comstock gets approvals for the resort. The project itself is expected to come before the Planning Commission later this spring. The ARB’s recommendations are just that—the commissioners can take them to heart or come up with their own decision before the project heads to the P.G. City Council. 

The dance is far from over.

-Pam Marino, staff writer, pam@mcweekly.com

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