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Calexico Development Services Department Director, who started in Calexico on Aug. 30, has led the charge to update fee schedules and ordinances on a variety of front to meet the Calexico City Council’s mission of incentivizing business development. Tylenda came to Calexico from the city of Imperial, where she was its planner. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. PHOTO

Calexico ‘Planning’ for Big Future Under New Director

Lisa Tylenda and Development Services Department Are Making Waves to Update Fees, Make Ordinances Business Friendly

CALEXICO — Over the past couple of months, there has been a whirlwind of activity around the Calexico Development Services Department.

At the center of much of that is the city’s relatively new director of planning and building, Lisa Tylenda, who came to Calexico in late August from the city of Imperial.

During the Calexico City Council meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 1, Tylenda took the council through three public hearings to update or create new ordinances related to home-based occupations, commercial zoning, and permitting variances, and provided a report on an alley-paving program.

Just a day before, on Tuesday evening, Nov. 30, she led a special Planning Commission meeting and workshop in front of a room of city officials, commissioners, and developers over proposed changes to building permit fees and development impact fees.

That same night, the Planning Commission, under Tylenda’s stewardship, dealt with some early decision-making tied to a new 113-unit single-family housing development.

And it’s been more of the same since she took the helm of the department that covers planning, engineering, building, and code enforcement on Aug. 30, after serving as planner for the city of Imperial.

Such subject matter tends to be dry, yet it’s the engine of progress that moves a city forward. Despite the ongoing pandemic, the need to update fee schedules and processes to spur and facilitate investment is paramount. To that end, the work done of the ordinances on Dec. 1, according to Tylenda, is an ongoing plan to “revitalize and incentivize economic growth in the city” per council direction.

“She was a great hire … the updating of fees is just one of the many things that the city needed to work on and one of the many things she’s tackling as our new director … coming in to the planning department that had been without a director for such a long time, she was already behind, but she’s doing an amazing job at trying to catch up,” Calexico Planning Commissioner Jose Alejos said recently.

“Since she came on board, we’ve been having Planning Commission meetings on a consistent basis. She’s even sending agendas and other information for the commissioners on the weekend, so you can tell she’s putting a lot of effort on making sure we have the correct information and that things are being taken care of rapidly,” added Alejos, an appointee of Mayor Pro Tem Camilo Garcia.

“I think she’s energetic, innovative, and doing amazing,” City Council member Raul Ureña added last week.

During her boss’ report at the Dec. 1 council meeting, City Manager Miguel Figueroa spoke about all the movement taking place in the department.

“A lot is going on at the Planning Commission level that is changing the way business is conducted in Calexico, specifically on the building and planning services side,” he said.

“One of the things that I want to highlight is that we’re tackling all types of housing needs, not only one, because … as the state of California is pushing through policy, the promotion and development of housing development projects, I also want to point out that market-rate housing is also needed in Calexico,” Figueroa added. “It’s important to point out that that’s being looked at as well.”

Ordinances to “Incentivize” Business Growth

Although the fee adjustments and other planning work mentioned earlier is the formative stages, the City Council made preliminary changes and additions on ordinances on Dec. 1 following a trio of public hearings that are meant to help charge business growth now. All three ordinance changes were approved, 3-0, by the council.

Speaking in a general sense, Tylenda communicated the spirit of what her department is currently undertaking with these and other changes.

“Before you are part of the council’s direction to incentivize economic development within the city of Calexico” post-COVID, she said, acknowledging that at present, “we’re trying to just get through it.”

The Calexico City Council discusses zoning changes during a trio of public hearings held on Wednesday, Dec. 1. | VIDEO CAPTURE

Two of the three ordinances addressed on Dec. 1 were zoning based, with the last pertaining to building permitting or what’s allowable under current building ordinances.

“The commercial zoning ordinance proposed amendments have been identified in what I would say (is) the direction that council has given to revitalize and incentivize economic development and growth within our city, and some of these items on tonight’s agenda in draft form, staff has identified areas in our zoning ordinances that if updated would really help (bring) in and incentive development,” Tylenda said.

The first hearing and resulting approval by the council amended existing zoning ordinances regarding “permitted and conditional uses,” that is, changes were done that in certain instances allowed approval or certain zoning requests by businesses at the discretion of the planning and services director rather than requiring a conditional-use permit, something that Tylenda implied would make the city nimble in being able to encourage business growth.

“These are some uses in certain zones that will incentivize development quicker but it would not jump the process of creating conditions of approval and review by staff internally,” she said.

In particular, she drew attention to something in the ordinance referred to as the “lot coverage maximum,” which she said as written is “detrimental” to development in the city, “a limiting factor … something I would call a government constraint.”

The ordinance proposed to increase the lot coverage maximum within Calexico to make it more competitive with other cities, which in most commercial zones is smaller than other Valley cities. The example she used was, if a development parcel is 6,000 square feet, a developer in Calexico can only develop up to 30 percent of that 6,000 square feet. Yet in cities outside Calexico, lot coverage maximums can be as high as 80 percent to 100 percent.

“These proposed amendments are efforts to make us as competitive if not more competitive than neighboring cities,” Tylenda said. “That’s the goal, right?”

Mayor Pro Tem Garcia, who has long been bullish on actions that help business retention and creation, was complimentary of the work being done in the planning side.

“This is something that will move … us in the right direction. I think it’s about time, not just that we’re competitive with other cities but also that we’re attractive for investment,” he said. “It’s good to see that we’re finally catching on and catching up to other neighboring cities so we can be competitive.”

The second zoning ordinances change was designed to assist and spur home-based microbusinesses or smaller business owners. With the state pushing the development of home-based operations like “micro-kitchens” and “cottage food homes,” she said “there is a need for administrative flexibility in the sense of creating a process that is tailored for residents and the small business community.”

The city would still impose rules and regulations defined in the city ordinances, but staff would have some wiggle room with addressing issues that would be an automatic no for a home-based business.

Tylenda cited an example of onsite storage for home businesses. She said suppose there is a cellphone repair business and it needs to have a stockpile of electronic components. Under current ordinances, those components could not be stored at the home. Conversely, a home accountant who just uses a computer wouldn’t have those same constraints. The change to the ordinance would allow staff to try to address some off-site storage that makes sense, such as a shed or something else on the property.

Of the current ordinance, “It’s not on the same playing field … one is at a disadvantage over the other,” she said.

Council members Rosie Arreola Fernandez and Garcia commented about certain additions they wanted to see toward home-based businesses, such as a limitation on signage, and things that might detract from the merchants who establish traditional brick-and-mortar operations. City Manager Figueroa agreed and asked that the issue at hand be approved and those items he dealt with administratively.

The final public hearing and approval covered a new ordinance involving “permitting variances,” primarily for residential projects, but commercial and industrial developments would also be included.

In the city there are numerous limitations for residents due to issues like fence height and setbacks, to name a few, and a problem that comes up a lot, Tylenda said, is carports that are tagged by building officials.

Among other things, the new ordinance will allow a “permitting variance” process that will be “a fraction of the cost of a fully blown variance,” which in some cases can cost $2,060.

Updating Fee Schedules

What appears to be one of the biggest undertakings of the new planning and building services director is taking on the seemingly huge task of updating the various fee schedules in the city.

Although Tylenda made a more comprehensive presentation during the special Planning Commission session on Nov. 30, she presented the City Council with a recap of her presentation as well as a timeline on how the proposed changes to the building permit fees and the development impact fees will occur.

Lisa Tylenda, director of planning and building services, speaks to the Calexico City Council during a presentation on Wednesday, Dec. 1, on plans to update permitting fees and development impact fees. | VIDEO CAPTURE

The last time there was a comprehensive fee schedule change adopted was 2009, with an update in 2012.

It’s a long process, for sure. Nov. 30 was the first public outreach done, with a second public presentation planned for the Dec. 15 council meeting to get council input and additions. On Jan. 31, there is another meeting planning specifically for developers and stakeholders.

Ultimately, the first public hearing and initial meeting in which the council can adopt an updated fee schedule will be July 6, with final approval on Aug. 3.

The process and posting documents on the city website and social media pages “will allow the public to see how we’re conducting the formulation and creation of our new fees, how we’re trying to incentivize economic development within the city and really see how they’re being formulated by the direction and vision of the council,” Tylenda said.

A lot of what was communicated was not the specific fee changes; rather, it was a historical explainer of permitting and development impact fees and a snapshot into the process of how formulations for fees are being done moving forward based on national standards tailored to local needs.

Council member Garcia, who attended the Nov. 30 presentation, lauded the effort and suggested the city aggressively market what it’s doing in this effort — and other efforts on the business development end.

“We don’t want to be the best-kept secret, right? This is something great. … We’re beginning to see that things are happening in Calexico, construction of businesses, amidst the pandemic that we’re going on, or we’re getting out,” Garcia said. “Something like this, I think will continue to revive and invite investment, so maybe we can work on a plan for marketing.”

New Housing Map Approvals

On Nov. 30, the Planning Commission approved tentative maps and subdivision unit maps on two residential projects, including a 113-home development on the eastern edge of the city at Bowker Road and Highway 98.

To be developed by Alliance Investors LLC of San Diego, the subdivision of single-family homes will range in lot sizes of 3,240 to 3,600 square feet over 18.5 acres on the east side of Bowker north of 98. A public park is planned for the area, according to planning staff documents.

The second development to gain approval was a major multi-unit complex on the opposite end of Highway 98/Birch Street on the south side of the street just west of Eady Avenue.

The affordable Remington apartments and condominiums will see Chelsea Investment Corp. development 180 units of three multi-story buildings at 60 units per building. There will be five parcels: three for the apartments, one for a retention basin/park and one to be optioned to a private buyer for condos.

Development services staff under Tylenda has been busy and will continue to be so for some time as Calexico looks to turn around its fortunes of the last few years. Planning Commissioner Alejos, for one, is pleased to see the direction the city is headed and pleased with its new planning director.

“I think it’s important that we update planning regulations and laws specially with our new director,” Alejos said. “She had some input in Imperial’s economic success, so we need to make sure we take advantage of her knowledge and see if it’s something that we can replicate here in Calexico.”