Plan for 384 apartments and a restaurant gets thumbs down from Newport commission

Citing concerns about the project's compatibility with the neighborhood, the Newport Beach Planning Commission took the first step Thursday night to deny a mixed-use development near John Wayne Airport that proposed 384 apartments and 5,677 square feet of restaurant space.

After more than two hours of discussion and public comment, the commission voted 4-1 to reject The Residences at Newport Place, pointing to insufficient public access to a proposed half-acre park, potential parking issues and an inadequate retail component, among other issues.

Commission members Tim Brown and Bradley Hillgren were absent.

The commission is expected to officially deny the project by resolution at its next meeting June 23, according to city staff.

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Commissioners had brought up their concerns during a study session in March. However, the developer, Irvine-based Newport Place Residential LLC, did not make significant revisions to the project before returning for a decision, commissioners said Thursday.

Commissioner Peter Koetting dissented in the vote, saying the commission should have granted the developer's request for a continuance to allow it to revise the project for further consideration.

Newport Place Residential plans to appeal the commission's decision to the City Council, according to the company's development manager, Britnae Jensen.

Several commissioners indicated that a residential project would be viable in the airport area, which has been identified as needing redevelopment in line with the city's 2006 general plan. The plan prioritizes mixed and residential uses in that area.

The Newport Place project would replace the 5.7-acre MacArthur Square commercial center, which was built in 1974 on the corner of Dove Street and Scott Drive, just west of MacArthur Boulevard. The center includes retail stores, professional and medical offices, a dance studio and several restaurants, including Arnie's Manhattan Deli, which has been there for more than a decade.

A description for The Residences at Newport Place prepared in 2014 by project consultant KHR Associates called MacArthur Square "aging, underutilized and underperforming."

"We all understand that this parcel as it currently stands is not up to the highest and best use and does need to be improved," said commission Chairman Kory Kramer. "However, the [proposed] project as it's currently designed has numerous flaws."

The Residences at Newport Place would consist of four four-story buildings with a restaurant and residential uses on the first floor and more residences above.

Commissioners said Thursday that they would like to see more retail in the project rather than a single restaurant.

Newport Place Residential has proposed that the apartments consist of 54 studio units averaging about 616 square feet, 173 one-bedroom units averaging 804 square feet, 136 two-bedroom units averaging about 1,178 square feet and 21 three-bedroom units averaging 1,422 square feet.

Of the 384 units, 86 would be priced below market rates for lower-income residents but would have the same amenities as market-rate units, according to project plans.

Rent prices have not been announced.

The development also would include a swimming pool, two spas, private cabanas, a community clubhouse, a business center, a recreation and fitness center, courtyards, two children's play areas, barbecue areas and a rooftop gathering space called a "sky deck."

A street-level parking area and two subterranean parking levels would total 715 spaces. The proposed number of parking spots is in line with state standards, city staff said, but commissioners raised concerns about overflow parking by residents and guests spilling onto adjacent streets.

Commissioners also took issue with the notion that the planned 59-foot-wide, half-acre linear open space along the southern part of the property would be fenced, with public access available only during daylight hours. Plans show the area with a pedestrian walkway between Dove Street and Martingale Way.

City land-use policies require that the project dedicate a half-acre as a public park, but Newport Place Residential had asked that the requirement be waived so it could maintain the project's requested density. The developer would pay a $1.25-million fee instead of dedicating the half-acre park.

"If you weren't using the [proposed] open space area to increase your density, I would be more receptive to having this be gated," Commissioner Peter Zak said.

Jensen declined to comment about components of the project that could be changed before it is taken to the council.

"We're going to be regrouping in the coming weeks and deciding what to do next," she said. "We still believe that we have a great project to bring to the city of Newport Beach."

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Hannah Fry, hannah.fry@latimes.com

Twitter: @HannahFryTCN

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