LCAD buying land previously marked for storage facility

Laguna College of Art + Design is in escrow to buy a 1.5-acre parcel at Big Bend on Laguna Canyon Road that had previously been considered for a self-storage facility, college President Jonathan Burke said Monday.

Burke said he could not disclose the purchase price, but added that the college has had the land at 2851 Laguna Canyon Road on its radar, though not for building. Burke said he learned the property, owned by Santa Rosa-based First Community Bank, fell out of escrow six weeks ago.

Newport Beach developer Doug Simpson planned to construct a 97,000-square-foot, three-story building at the site and presented his proposal to the Planning Commission April 9. At that hearing, several speakers including residents and college students and officials opposed the plans, claiming the proposed building was too large and out of character with the canyon's surrounding hillsides, trees and wildlife.

Simpson contemplated a smaller project, but said that didn't work out.

"I asked [First Community Bank] for more time, but was rejected," Simpson said. "If I had another year to process a plan...and it was a stand-alone deal, I probably could have come up with a reasonable project."

Mike Teeter, a vice president and lender at First Community Bank, did not comment on the transaction, citing company policy.

Burke said one reason college officials wanted to buy the land was to protect it from large projects like the self-storage facility which had become a hot topic in the recent controversy about development in the canyon.

"We were taken aback by the size and scale of [Simpson's] project," Burke said.

The site, in an industrial zone, includes a paved parking lot of which the college leases 49 spaces, according to a city staff report. LCAD leases space in three adjacent buildings at 2825 Laguna Canyon Road for animation, design and digital media and game art classes, Burke said.

A habitat restoration area managed by the Laguna Canyon Foundation sits next to the desired property.

Burke noted the canyon's aesthetics, be it rock outcroppings, or wildlife that serve as inspiration for art students.

"We want to preserve the canyon," Burke said. "It's an inspirational area we want to exist in perpetuity."

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