Mammoth votes for new town look, design

Say the word zoning regulations and eyes glaze over in a matter of seconds—unless one or more of those regulations happens to get in the way of building a home or commercial building—or an entire town.

Then, nothing in the world is as important.

“I urge you to move quickly on this, because there are developers waiting on the tarmac right now, hoping to invest in this town,” Mammoth Mountain Ski Area CEO Rusty Gregory told the Mammoth Lakes Town Council last week during public comment time, as the council debated a draft revision of the town’s 30-year-old commercial zoning code.

There is little time to lose on moving forward on approving a final zoning code, Gregory said.

“The cycle is turning back in Mammoth’s favor,” he said, adding that what developers and investors want is certainty.

“If you wait too much longer, the opportunity could once again pass Mammoth by.”

There was no opposition to the draft plan during public comment and the council approved a document that contains zoning code changes recommended by a group of citizens acting as advisors to the council and the Town’s planning commission.

“I don’t want to re-litigate the density issue again,” said Mayor Rick Wood before the 4-0 vote (Councilmember Michael Raimundo was absent) referring to the decade-plus process it has taken to arrive at the draft document after issues such as total town density at buildout and building height proved to be controversial.

“I don’t want to exclude the public, but the time for including them again is in the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process. So right now, what we need to do is approve this and find a funding source (to complete the CEQA process, expected to cost between $200,000 and $400,000, according to town staff).”

As Wood noted, the draft document still has to go through the state’s mandated environmental review process, which includes a series of public hearings and comment periods.

To do this, the town will have to hire consultants to fine-tune the aspects of the zoning code changes that could possibly have environmental impacts, such as air pollution that might—or might not—result from increased density in a few targeted areas, such as parts of Old Mammoth and Main Street.

The idea, according to town staff, is to capitalize on modern research, which shows that a certain density of retail and commercial space is critical to building vibrancy and sustainability in a commercial zone.

 That will take, in the best-case scenario, six months to a year, said the town’s associate transportation planner Jessica Morriss, who has shepherded the zoning code document through these most recent proposals.

Commercial zoning codes are, Morriss said, the “Bible” of any planning effort, setting in place things like density, height, design, signage, and landscaping for a community’s commercial and retail areas—in other words, just about everything that defines how a community looks and functions.