The Desert Hot Springs City Council sits at the dais for the May 16, 2023, meeting.
The Desert Hot Springs City Council meets in City Hall for the May 16, 2023, meeting. (Credit: YouTube/Screenshot)

The Desert Hot Springs City Council Tuesday expanded the boundary of its temporary moratorium on issuing certain new licenses, permits and entitlements as part of the city’s process to rehabilitate the downtown area.

“Certain land uses permitted in the commercially zoned areas are incompatible with the vision of downtown as described in the general plan,” Travis Clark, interim community development director, said. “The goals call for a vibrant, engaging and attractive downtown and policies that promote activities, events, land uses and development projects that enhance the vitality and vibrancy of downtown.”

Earlier this year, the city council voted to extend a moratorium on certain types of businesses in the commercial downtown zoning area bound by First Street to the north, Buena Vista Avenue to the south, Mesquite Avenue to the east and Cactus Drive to the west, through Jan. 17, 2025.

“We previously brought forward an urgency item of this nature several months back, back in January, for the downtown,” Doria Wilms, interim city manager, said. “In reviewing everything, now that we are actually working on a proper downtown plan … the moratorium that we previously brought forward did not encompass the entire downtown area. 

“We had missed an entire section in that previous ordinance, and so this is essentially piggybacking on the previous moratorium,” she continued. “So it would encompass the entire downtown.”

The new ordinance effectively expands the area included in the moratorium westward into the commercial general zoning area bounded by First Street to the north, Acoma Avenue to the south, Cactus Drive to the east and Cholla Drive to the west.

The council approved the urgency interim ordinance 4-1, with Councilmember Russell Betts opposed.

“I’m not in favor of this type of thing,” he said. “I don’t think we’re good enough at trying to predict what kind of businesses will come, that they will come, and it’s too restrictive.”

Both Mayor Pro Tem Roger Nuñez and Councilmember Gary Gardner agreed that council should take a deeper look at the types of businesses included in the moratorium, but were willing to adopt the ordinance with the understanding that it’s temporary.

“I think this is a wise extension of the moratorium that we put on two months ago, three months ago, and it makes sense to push this down the street a little bit further,” Councilmember Gary Gardner said. “So I’ve been favorable, but I also want us to really take a good hard look at tweaking some of these things that are there before we extend it further or make it permanent.”

The ordinance, effective immediately, creates a 45-day suspension of the processing of any incomplete application or the approval of any license, permit or entitlement for certain uses. For the ordinance to be continued beyond 45 days, it would have to come back to the council for another vote.

“I think this is a first, good step,” Mayor Scott Matas said. “And again, 45 days will give us enough time to massage that list a little bit.”

A draft of the ordinance can be found here.

In other council news: The Desert Hot Springs City Council unanimously adopted a resolution recognizing June 19 as Juneteenth. The day will now be an official paid holiday for city employees. “I am glad that constituents allow me to sit there when I make a motion on this today,” Councilmember Jan Pye said. “That’s a big deal to me.” 

The council also unanimously adopted an ordinance extending the operating hours for cannabis storefront retail businesses initially discussed May 2. The extended hours will go into effect June 15. You can watch a recording of the full meeting here.

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