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Venezia: Costa Mesa helipad proposal hovers over Newport

I like to scratch the surface a bit more after reading a story that piques my interest.

So when I read businessman Kevin Coleman had gotten approval from the Costa Mesa Planning Commission for a proposed 40-by-40-foot helipad on his property at 3132 Airway Ave., intended to be solely used by Mike Manclark, CEO of Leading Edge Aviation Services, to park his personal helicopter there, I wanted to know more.

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Could Coleman's project change the footprint of John Wayne Airport?

I remember back in 2011, when Legacy Aviation planned to buy land on Airway Avenue to accommodate its luxury aviation hangar business and then lease it back to the county. The footprint argument arose then, and the project wasn't approved.

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Newport Beach City Hall recently re-sent its objection letter from that time frame to the city of Costa Mesa. That letter not only objected to the Legacy Aviation project, but also to the helipad proposal by Leading Edge. Seems this is the second time Leading Edge and Coleman have tried to get helipad approval.

Coleman tells me he sees no reason for Newport to object this time since his project differs from Legacy's proposal. Legacy wanted to take down the fence separating its facility from JWA, initiating a change in the airport footprint. Coleman wants to make sure the "federal fence" between his property and the airport stays right where it is.

"I'm being penalized because my private property is next to John Wayne Airport," he says.

Coleman claims there are other helipads down the street, which have never raised concern, so why should his?

But what if Coleman sold his property to the airport in the future?

Coleman's been on Airway a long time — since there was a white picket fence separating his property from the airport.

"Now it's an 8-foot-high, chain link fence with barbed wire on it," he says.

And Coleman was emphatic saying he has no intention of ever selling: "I'm not going anywhere."

But can anyone really predict what future circumstances will bring?

So will Newport back off from its stand on this?

City Manager Dave Kiff says the city's 2011 position "generally remains in place," though he has not asked the current council to reconsider it as of yet.

"Our chief concern was/is whether the JWA footprint is expanded," he says. "Not overflights. It doesn't matter to us where the helicopter flights go."

Kiff went on to explain expansion of the footprint is a concern because it could allow more planes to remain overnight, or lead to further projects like this one, which, ultimately could add a long strip of land near Airway Drive to the airport. The fear there is opening the door to another runway.

"AirFair continues to see this as an expansion of the airport footprint," adds Melinda Seely, president of the AirFair group opposed to expansion.

Coleman of course does not see it that way.

Neither does Costa Mesa Mayor Steve Mensinger, who says, "We have a close relationship with our cousins in Newport, and we've listend intently when they ask us to consider impacts. In this particular case we don't see it as a footprint change."

His is not the only thing creating controversy in Newport.

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Villas project catches SPON's eye

Newport Center Villas is a proposed 7-story, 49-unit residential complex on a 1.3-acre parcel near Fashion Island that is now on the radar of SPON — Stop Polluting Our Newport — and activist Jean Watt.

I spoke with Watt this week, and she's fired up.

"We are fighting it," says Watt.

You might remember that Watt and SPON successfully stopped Measure Y, which would have allowed expansion at Newport Center, in the last election. Now its set on stopping Newport Center Villas.

But it's more than just that development that has Watt concerned.

She argues that projects like this circumvent the true intention of planned community districts in Newport's municipal codes, which are intended for 10-acre parcels to make them compatible with uses around them.

Increasingly, builders are getting exceptions for smaller parcel developments, and that's where the problem lies, she says.

Watt sees this "spot zoning" as a growing concern, as developers try to go around the Greenlight initiative, which requires voter approval for some large-scale projects that increase traffic and have other impacts.

Simply stated, smaller projects are approved without a vote of the people — only planning commissioners and council members.

If folks object to the project after the council has voted to approve it, residents have one month to get 10% of registered voters to sign a petition against it. Then the council can either put it to a vote or rescind it.

Though Greenlight changed the need for referendums, it only streamlined protest against larger developments. These smaller development projects still slip through the cracks.

Smaller projects needing height waivers and such are not consistent with Newport's General Plan and that spot zoning is being used "willy nilly" throughout the city, Watt says.

Watt is calling for a re-tooling of a citizens review of the General Plan — as was done in 2006. If anyone can initiate change — it's Watt and SPON.

BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at bvontv1@gmail.com. Listen to her weekly radio segment on "Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn" from 11 a.m. to noon on KOCI/101.5 FM.

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