Newport commission pulls back on Mariners' Mile widening

The Newport Beach Planning Commission could put the brakes on a possible widening of West Coast Highway through Mariners’ Mile.

City staff and its consultant say the proposed road widening and a revitalization plan for the area are distinct issues, with the revitalization not contingent on widening the highway.

But dozens of residents took their views about redevelopment of the district to a Planning Commission study session Thursday, with most focusing on a proposal that would turn the congested 1.3-mile stretch of highway — which is currently four or five lanes wide, depending on the location — into six lanes (three in each direction).

“I don’t want to give up on the project by any means, but I think the public’s not quite ready. I don’t think we should be, as a body, ready,” Commissioner Erik Weigand said. “I don’t think the City Council should vote on it, and I just kind of feel that it’s a tad bit rushed.”

Consultant Woodie Tescher walked the audience through the recently released draft revitalization plan, a 162-page document of land use and design guidelines, saying it uses the goals and policies in the city’s broader general plan.

Mariners’ Mile is a local nerve center for boater services and is a diverse hub of auto dealerships, dining, retail and homes.

The area was identified in 2011 as needing revitalization. Some recent concepts include adding bike lanes and parking garages, removing street parking, rerouting Avon Street to improve traffic flow and creating a pedestrian-friendly commercial village.

Coralee Newman, who represents landowners preparing to redevelop their half-acre at West Coast Highway and Avon, said her clients are worried about the Avon connection to the main thoroughfare.

“By putting that Avon connection through that property, it really would be a taking of their property and make it probably undevelopable,” she said.

Ken Gould, a real estate broker who has clients renovating the former Newport Boats building at 2500 W. Coast Hwy. into a child care center, said he likes the revitalization plan overall — except for a cluster of proposed townhomes on Avon, which he said would restrict access to the child care center’s parking lot.

Newport Beach Public Works Director Dave Webb said land development comes before circulation or road development.

Development in neighboring cities also generates traffic through Newport Beach.

Webb shared studies that show Mariners’ Mile traffic is already too heavy for the number of lanes and that making it six lanes is a City Council preference going back to 1975.

But neighbors stuck to their points against a six-lane highway.

Patrick Gormley said other coastal cities have made their segments of Pacific Coast Highway more attractive to pedestrians and bicyclists, not more cars.

David Grant said traffic is a reality but is confined to the typical rush hour.

“Every major city in the world has traffic at that time from 4 to 6, every city, and so we have to live with some things,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we have to pave over everything just because we have traffic in those times. … For heaven’s sake, we have a wonderful seaside town. We don’t want to mess it up.”

He asked the commission not to do anything “too drastic.”

“If you want to think about it for a decade, OK,” he said. “But for the time being, I encourage you to leave it alone.”

Commissioners seemed amenable to that.

Weigand acknowledged the Mariners’ Mile congestion but said he doesn’t think the entire package — revitalization and road widening, which he said go hand in hand — is “ready for prime time.”

Commissioners Ray Lawler and Bill Dunlap said they believe the issues are separate and that the revitalization part is ready to move forward. But they do want to gather more feedback.

Commission Vice Chairman Peter Koetting agreed.

“We need to keep this revitalization plan alive and work with it and try to refine it and get it tighter,” he said.

Another Planning Commission meeting on the subject is scheduled for May, with the item potentially going before the City Council in June or July.

hillary.davis@latimes.com

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