Council OKs $3.5 million Festival of Arts makeover

Over the concerns of some residents, the Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved plans for a new facade and pedestrian promenade at the Festival of Arts.

The council upheld the Planning Commission's unanimous approval of the $3.5-million project, which includes a revamped facade made primarily of recycled materials, such as copper and zinc, in grays and greens. The plan also calls for a landscaped promenade designed as a gathering place with seats made from stone outcroppings.

The promenade would replace a 13-space public parking lot in front of the grounds, which contain a public park and host year-round events, including two summertime classics: a fine-art exhibit and the Pageant of the Masters. The Festival of Arts, at 650 Laguna Canyon Road, leases the land from the city.

Seventeen public, metered spots on Cliff Drive, near Beach Street, would help offset the loss of the 13 spaces, according to a city staff report.

The city restriped part of Cliff Drive in June 2010 when it converted the street to one-way and added the 17 spaces.

"About the same time discussions occurred regarding the festival possibly removing spaces [for a facade project] was about the same time the Cliff Drive spaces were being created," Mayor Elizabeth Pearson said. "[Former City Manager] Ken Frank told the festival board that there is a one-for-one replacement, and then some."

Since the Cliff Drive spaces were not required for a specific use, from a planning perspective they can be considered sufficient to offset the 13 lost spaces and satisfy possible California Coastal Commission concerns about parking loss.

This arrangement didn't please Ginger Osborne, president of preservation-focused Village Laguna.

"We like the design, how it complements the canyon," Osborne said during the meeting. "No spaces are being created to meet the need those spaces are fulfilling today."

The Festival of Arts also agreed to buy 13 parking permits at a cost of $55 a month per space in the city's Lumberyard lot, at Forest Avenue and Laguna Canyon Road. This would allow its employees and downtown business workers to park, festival board President Fred Sattler said Wednesday.

"This will simply reduce the capacity of [the Lumberyard] lot for public use," Osborne said. "This arrangement amounts to a gift of valuable public space to a non-public enterprise, and we don't see how that can be justified."

Sattler said Festival of Arts and city staff discussed parking and other issues at length, including the need to keep the two existing handicapped parking spaces on the site and to allow enough room for fire engines to access the property.

"Nothing is perfect," Sattler said. "Sometimes you have to give up something."

All existing festival trees would be preserved under the plan while permeable pavement, a kind of concrete made of crushed glass that sparkles like beach sand when light hits it, would be used to capture and filter storm runoff.

The project is exempt from California Environmental Quality Act purview, according to the city staff report.

"Although the project site is in an environmentally sensitive area ... the project is exempt because it is an existing developed site," the staff report says. Standard operations, including public gatherings, would continue.

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Whalen said the project should move forward.

"I have no concern about taking out 13 spaces and visually improving this public space and creating a pedestrian-friendly area," Whalen said. "We ought to be creating pedestrian-friendly spaces, and you do that by getting rid of automobiles."

Construction is scheduled to begin in October and be completed in time for the 2015 summer season.

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