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Planning Commission recommends denial of reduced plan for 150 Newport Center project

A scaled-down 35-unit condominium and townhome development proposed for Newport Center will move to the Newport Beach City Council with a recommendation for denial from the Planning Commission.

After hours of public discussion Thursday night about the 150 Newport Center project, the planning commissioners voted 5-2 to recommend denial. Commissioners Peter Zak and Ray Lawler dissented.

The development, proposed by Newport Center Anacapa Associates LLC, has gone through a series of changes in the past several months at the commission's behest.

The developer originally proposed a seven-story, 49-unit building reaching 69 feet tall. However, after its initial meeting with the Planning Commission in July, the company reduced the plan to six stories with 45 units reaching 65 feet.

Then, after a two-hour public discussion at the commission's Aug. 18 meeting where commissioners were unable to come to a consensus about the project's density and height, the developer reduced the planned height of the building to 50 feet in five stories and cut the number of units to 35.

The project is proposed to replace the Beacon Bay Auto Wash and an adjacent gas station along Newport Center Drive near Anacapa Drive.

Ron Soderling, principal at Newport Center Anacapa Associates, said in a statement Friday that he is disappointed that the Planning Commission didn't recognize the benefits of the project.

"We live in the community and care about the future of the city," he wrote. "That's why we have worked so closely with the community over the past year to develop a project that respects the views of neighbors, reduces traffic and water usage and provides an iconic destination for locals to live out their next chapter of the American dream. We feel optimistic that the City Council will see those benefits and approve the project."

Though many commissioners commented on the building's attractive architecture and their desire to see residences built in Newport Center, several said the landscaping plan is lacking and that the project is too bulky for the 1.26-acre site.

Chairman Kory Kramer said he would be more comfortable if the development consisted of 25 units in four stories.

"The building design is stunning, but it's too much for that site," Kramer said.

But Lawler felt the project would advance the city general plan's goal of creating a walkable community in Newport Center.

"A lot of people that will choose to live at 150 Newport Center will choose with their feet," he said. "The demand is extremely strong for this product. It's smart growth in a great location."

For the development to move forward, the City Council would have to vote to change the land-use designation for the site from regional commercial office to multi-unit residential to allow homes to be built. It is not clear when the council will take up the project.

Two local groups, Stop Polluting Our Newport, an activist organization, and Line in the Sand, a political action committee, began circulating a petition last week via email and social media urging the Planning Commission to reject the development.

As of Thursday evening, the groups said more than 1,400 individuals had registered their support.

The petition argues that 150 Newport Center is inappropriate for the location because of its height and bulk and the fact that it proposes residential use on a site not zoned for it. The zoning should remain commercial, the groups say.

They also point to noise issues that could arise from the units being close to restaurants, bars and a movie theater at Fashion Island.

Several commissioners also took issue with the project's close proximity to Muldoon's Irish Pub, saying that residents who purchase condos at 150 Newport Center might become frustrated with the noise from the restaurant.

Muldoon's owner Ron Schwartz said he also has concerns about building homes near his restaurant at 202 Newport Center Drive, which has operated for decades.

"Residential can be fine in the right location," he said. "As much as everyone would like to force it into a shoe, it doesn't work."

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