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Planning Commission eyes height reduction for Newport Center residential project

A six-story, 45-unit residential development proposed to replace a car wash in Newport Center will get more discussion from the Newport Beach Planning Commission in September but could face a redesign.

After about two hours of public comment and discussion at its meeting Thursday night, the commission couldn't come to a consensus about 150 Newport Center, a 65-foot-tall townhome and condominium project that would replace the Beacon Bay Auto Wash and an adjacent gas station on 1.26 acres along Newport Center Drive near Anacapa Drive.

The commission voted 5-2, with members Erik Weigand and Bill Dunlap dissenting, to continue discussion of the proposal on Sept. 1.

The majority of commissioners said they are open to a residential project on the site, as it advances the city general plan's goal of creating a walkable community in Newport Center.

But as part of its vote, the commission provided some parameters for 150 Newport Center, including setting the maximum number of units at 45 and a maximum building height of 50 feet, which would put it in line with other buildings in that area, commissioners said.

Commissioners said that doesn't mean the project would be guaranteed 45 units, adding that their action was simply intended to create a road map that could be built on at the next meeting.

"We need to have ... some framework," commission Chairman Kory Kramer said. "This is one of the tier 1 projects that takes a lot of input from the community, staff and Planning Commission. These are not easy, and whether we like it or not, we have to get our hands dirty."

Kramer said he believes the right number of units for the site is about 25.

Weigand, however, said he will not support residential use there.

"I oppose the project," he said. "I think it should be commercial or keep the car wash, but I can't jump on it for that site to have residential."

The project already has undergone several redesigns since it was first submitted to the city more than a year ago. The building previously was proposed to be seven stories reaching 69 feet tall and including 49 residential units.

In its most recent plan, the developer, Newport Center Anacapa Associates, reduced the size to six stories and 45 units.

As proposed, 150 Newport Center would consist of a total of 15 units on the first and second levels, nine units on both the third and fourth levels, eight units on the fifth level and four on the sixth level. There would be three levels of basement parking.

The building is designed as a single structure with two enclaves connected at the center. The exterior would have a concrete facade, stainless-steel finishes and glass, according to a city staff report. Amenities would include a rooftop pool, a clubhouse and a dog run.

City staff recommended that the Planning Commission cap the building at five stories, meaning it would reach a height of 55 feet, with mechanical equipment reaching up to 61 feet. That alternative would keep the number of residential units at 45 but would increase the building's footprint, staff said.

But commissioners Thursday weren't convinced that was the right approach and concluded that more discussion is needed about height and density.

Michael Lutton, principal of Newport Center Anacapa Associates, cautioned commissioners against significantly reducing the project's height.

"We're proposing a beautiful project that we have modified to fit in the area," Lutton said. "If you go and reduce the height on it ... it's going to be a dense box. It won't be something this community wants to see."

Once the commission votes, the project will go before the City Council, which would have to sign off for it to move forward.

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