Ron Fink: Defining Harmonious Design in Lompoc | Opinions

By Ron Fink | January 14, 2020 | 4:00 p.m.

The Lompoc General Plan (GP) functions as a guide to the type of community Lompoc residents desire for their future, and provides the means by which it can be achieved. The GP “focuses on the organization of the community’s physical environment into logical, functional, and visually pleasing patterns that are consistent with local social values.”

The 2030 GP was finalized following numerous workshops and public hearings to provide citizens the opportunity to participate in the planning and decision-making process affecting the city.  
The GP also specifies: “The City shall periodically review and update its architectural, landscaping, and site plan review process, as well as any associated guidelines.”

City Architectural Guidelines were last reviewed in 2001, so after two decades an update would be appropriate.

The Urban Design Element of the GP states: “The City shall encourage the protection of structures and neighborhoods which possess locally significant architectural styles or historic values. Infill development in such areas shall be architecturally compatible with surrounding structures.” The Architectural Guidelines implement this requirement.

On Nov. 13, 2019, the Lompoc Planning Commission was discussing a Development Review Permit so they could provide recommendations to the City Council for a 24-unit residential condominium project consisting of three, two-story buildings.

This was an infill project and the guide specifies that “structures should be designed to harmonize with the existing neighborhood and with the existing on-site structures.”

The developer was proposing to use “mission style” architecture for the project, but some planning commissioners had reservations. One commissioner thought “that the city has an abundance of mission style architecture styles.” He also said he “likes a mix of classic and modern 21st century.”

Two commissioners agreed “that a mix of styles is good.”

The neighboring single-family dwellings, an apartment complex and a motel aren’t of the mission style, and each differs in style. Adding the new project would create foue different styles on one city block.

However, the “Staff review finds that the proposed project, as conditioned, is complementary to the nearby developments while remaining substantially compliant with the City’s Architectural Review Guidelines.”

Perhaps since there was no design consistency with any of the neighboring buildings, it became harmonious with the existing neighborhood.

The city of Lompoc was incorporated in 1888. As buildings were built to serve the citizens, they reflected the thinking of designers at the time. At first, they were simply functional, later esthetically pleasing features were added to make the buildings more appealing.

There have been a couple of notable building booms in the last century, all prompted by adding large military programs at nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The first being in the early 1940s when Camp Cooke was openedm and the second in the late 1950s when Vandenberg began occupying the former Army Camp and established a West Coast missile launch site. Then in the early 1980s, another building surge occurred when the Air Force determined Vandenberg would be home to the Space Shuttle.

Each of these significant expansions of the city came with their own architectural style. So, instead of the harmonious design envisioned by consultants who help prepare the GP and the accompanying Architectural Guide, we have an eclectic mixture of designs.

In other words, there is not one commercial block in the city that has a consistent design theme. In fact, a couple of years ago when a major retailer left a large shopping center, the space was divided into four separate business spaces.

The developer proposed a façade for this project that was inconsistent with the rest of the center but reflected the image the new businesses wished to project.

This phenomenon is not unique to Lompoc. When you travel the streets and avenues of any community, you’ll see the same diverse mixture of design elements.

If a city were to start with a blank canvas of empty ground, perhaps it could be designed to reflect the harmonious design that intrigues urban planners; at least until the first expansion or major renovation occurred.

The Planning Commission and City Council should update the Architectural Guidelines created in 2001 and during the process recognize that the dream of harmonious design can never be achieved.

As with any local government, our City Council and Planning Commission consist of ordinary citizens who have chosen to serve their city. Thus, whatever they do with the Architectural Guidelines will be subjective and based on their best efforts.

Then in another decade or so, a new group trying to implement the guidance will scratch their heads and wonder “what were they thinking?”

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committees since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read his previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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