If the owner of the Ranch at Laguna Beach wants to push ahead with a hotel renovation, the California Coastal Commission says he needs to build a public trail from a wilderness park to Aliso Beach Park — and provide a shuttle.
Longtime Laguna resident and businessman Mark Christy is seeking a coastal development permit to increase the number of rooms from 64 suites to 97 while reconfiguring a restaurant and adding a spa and fitness center.
Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the Aliso Canyon project Thursday in Santa Monica, nearly six months after they questioned the city Planning Commission's unanimous approval of the project.
Coastal Commission staff said the project would have "significant impacts to public access and recreation." Requiring the shuttle and trail is intended to limit any disruption to public access that would come with the increase of 33 rooms.
In June, resident Mark Fudge filed an appeal of the city's approval, which set in motion the Coastal Commission's review of the project. Fudge's appeal raises concerns about the loss of affordable accommodations, pedestrian access, parking, historical preservation, natural resources and water quality, according to the commission's staff report.
Christy wants to split 32 existing one-bedroom suites in half, creating 64 standard-sized hotel rooms. A penthouse would be added by converting a former residence.
He also wants to increase rates for all room types, something the Coastal Commission report says runs counter to part of the Coastal Act that calls for "protecting, encouraging and providing lower-cost visitor facilities."
"The greater intensity of use of the hotel translates into increased recreational demand on coastal resources in the surrounding area," the report says.
Christy has said the 1960s-era hotel, made up of 23 structures, is in need of upgrades, both aesthetically and to comply with fire codes and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Christy did not return an email seeking comment on the report.
To compensate for potential harm to public access, Christy is offering a trail for pedestrians and cyclists that would meander through the property, which includes a nine-hole golf course, and offer at least 12 overnight camping stays per year for youth groups at a parcel known as the Scout Camp.
The Coastal Commission, however, says that isn't enough to mitigate the proposed changes: Christy would also need to pay a $1.1-million fee in lieu of providing lower-cost overnight accommodations, or agree to fund and operate a permanent shuttle program that would be more extensive in cost and service than the temporary program.
The Laguna Beach City Council will take public testimony about the project at its Tuesday meeting to give City Manager John Pietig direction before Thursday's Coastal Commission hearing.
Christy has identified two potential areas for a trail on the north side of the property that could connect with the edge of Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. Both are away from traveling golf balls.
Either option would require crossing land owned by other entities, including the city, South Coast Water District and the county.
Until a trail is built, a temporary shuttle program would transport pedestrians and cyclists from an existing road at the property's northeast corner through the golf course to the hotel entrance.
According to the Coastal Commission report, Christy would be limited to 12 events monthly at the Scout Camp — including overnight stays — with no more than 100 guests attending other functions limited to daytime hours. Noise levels must keep in line with city regulations.
Christy must also submit a lighting plan that indicates hours of use, and only low-level LED bulbs may be used.
Last fall, commission staff told Christy to halt all activity at the Scout Camp because he hadn't gotten a permit for work that included removing debris and trash, trimming and removing eucalyptus trees and other vegetation, and installing a 7,000-square-foot concrete pad.
Christy had received a permit from the city to strip buildings to their wood frames in anticipation of a remodel.