Festival of Arts' officials received resounding support from the Planning Commissioner and the public Wednesday night for their plans to remodel the facility's front facade and surrounding grounds.
In addition to the facade, the commission unanimously gave the OK for architects to revamp the entrance area with landscaping and permeable surfaces. The property, at 650 Laguna Canyon Road, houses the annual summer art exhibit and the Pageant of the Masters.
The proposal still needs City Council approval.
The project's goal is to blend the canyon's rolling hills and trees with an inviting visitor experience, architect Jay Bauer told commissioners.
Commission Chairman Robert Zur Schmiede complimented the design team, which includes landscape architect Andrew Spurlock and engineer Pat Fuscoe.
"This is in essence a wall," Zur Schmiede said of the facade, "but the amount of thought that's gone into this ... if we could get this thought and cooperation on all municipal projects it would be a wonderful thing. This should be written up in a magazine."
The current facade was built 14 years ago and is "old and tired looking," Festival of Arts board President Fred Sattler said.
"[The facade] is suffering from a severe case of osteoporosis," Sattler said. "We have made cosmetic changes annually, but [the proposed design] is more in tune with the current [Pageant of the Masters]. It's time for a new look."
The current building front is 12 feet above ground level, the maximum allowed in the Civic Arts District, but because the new facade would reach 26 feet only at certain points, commissioners were willing to support the design change.
Existing ticketing and administration buildings will remain as they are.
The new facade would be constructed primarily from recycled materials, such as copper and zinc in colors like gray and green.
Tiles would have tiny perforations to allow sunlight to filter through, Bauer said.
All existing trees on the site would remain, but Spurlock, the landscape architect, suggested adding a couple sycamores along with native and ornamental grasses. Drought-tolerant plants would also be included, Spurlock added.
"We'll use predominantly low-growing plants because we want to see the facade," Spurlock said. "We want to create layers of different textures."
The current parking lot would be transformed into a pedestrian gathering place, with seats made of stone outcroppings.
Permeable pavement, a kind of concrete made of crushed glass that sparkles when light hits it to resemble beach sand, would be used to capture and filter storm runoff, which otherwise would enter gutters and head into the ocean, Spurlock said.
The engineers' water quality plan is in keeping with the city code, and the project does not require an environmental impact report, city planning manager Ann Larson said in a phone interview Thursday.
A city staff report said that under the plans, 15 parking spots will be removed to make way for the landscaped promenade but that 17 public parking spots at Cliff Drive and Beach Street will help offset the loss.
A new on-site loading zone would allow two vehicles to drop off or pick up passengers, and a short-term parking area would give customers quick access to the "will call" booth, the staff report said. Two handicap parking spaces would also be relocated on the site.
Curbside loading for shuttles and buses will remain in place along Laguna Canyon Road.
Commissioner Linda Dietrich suggested using a valet service to make it easier for disabled festival patrons to access the grounds.
Commissioners were also concerned about lighting and possible glare affecting neighbors.
"Reason is there have been recent projects where the lighting has met city standards, but we were caught off guard with how bright it was," Commissioner Ken Sadler said.
Bauer said most of the lights on the property are small LED bulbs and can be dimmed as needed. Lights will be used along pathways and placed in trees, where they will shine downward, he added.
"It's unlikely all lights will be illuminated at any one time," Bauer said.
Commissioner Norm Grossman recommended setting a time at the end of the night when all lights need to be off.
If the council approves the plans, construction could begin in October and be completed in time for the 2015 summer festival season, Sattler said.
The festival has the money to cover the $3 million anticipated cost, Sattler said.
Dietrich applauded the project's design and said the city will benefit in multiple ways.
"Having pedestrian access in the forefront is wonderful, to see a place where we can congregate," Dietrich said. "This enhances the beginning of Complete Streets [a statewide initiative to foster pedestrian and bicyclist activity]."