In a humorous remark near the end of Tuesday night's Newport Beach City Council meeting, Councilman Ed Selich summed up best the decision-making process for the Newport Beach Country Club property.
"Now I know what they mean in Congress when they say, 'Making laws is like making sausage; it aint pretty,'" said Selich, who served three terms as chair of the city's Planning Commission. "I have never seen a situation like this."
By 6-1 votes on each of two agenda items, the council decided: to move ahead with a plan for a new 56,000 square foot golf clubhouse from Newport Beach Country Club Inc. (the tenant), and a proposal from Golf Realty Fund (the land owner) to revamp the tennis club, add 27 one-story bungalows, five single-family homes, and a 7,490 square-foot spa and fitness center. Golf Realty Fund's plan calls for removing 17 of the private club's 24 courts to make room for the bungalows. Mayor Nancy Gardner dissented on both motions.
The council sifted through nearly a dozen speakers during public comments, and considered issues such as the existing frontage road with neighbor Armstrong Garden Center and arbitration involving one of the parties, before making its decisions.
Development agreements for both proposals require second approvals, scheduled for Feb. 14. The proposals would then move to the California Coastal Commission for review.
The council approved NBCC Inc.'s plan, which maintains the frontage road with Armstrong (though makes it one way) and includes a remodeled parking lot, despite resistance from Irvine Terrace residents. Two speakers said events such as the Toshiba Classic golf tournament each March generate unwanted traffic in their neighborhood and were worried about increased guests attending banquet functions at the club throughout the year. David Wooten, president and chief executive of the club, has said the club has room to accommodate three or four more tournaments throughout the year.
Gardner said that removing the tennis courts and inserting the bungalows would simply transfer traffic from one use to another.
Robert O Hill, the property's co-owner, planned for a 35,000 square foot golf clubhouse as part of his proposal.
Councilmembers spent considerable time whether to move ahead with O Hill's tennis proposal because O Hill and his co-owners (Eliot Feuerstein and Irv Chase, who each have a 25% ownership stake) are in a private arbitration set for early April. Feuerstein, owner of Mira Mesa Shopping Center West and Mesa Shopping Center East, and Chase want all the tennis courts removed and bungalows put into their place. In minutes from the Planning Commission meeting on Aug. 4 last year, Feuerstein said he supports NBCC Inc.'s plan and he "has not authorized [O Hill] to submit plans for development on this property."
City Attorney Aaron Harp tried to appease councilmembers' fears by saying state law does not require all property owners in this case to sign an agreement to develop the property. Mike Recupero, speaking on behalf of Feuerstein and Chase, argued that O Hill proceeded with his plan without approval of Chase and Feuerstein.
"We didn't have an opportunity to review the business side of the plan," Recupero said.
Golf Realty Fund's plan includes a 2,400-seat stadium court. One tennis player who said he has a hard time getting on the courts was worried that fewer courts would mean players may travel to neighboring cities, such as Irvine and that Newport would lose tournaments.
Chris Rodriguez lives in Newport Beach and said he has played golf at Newport Beach Country Club numerous times. He has concerns the expanded banquet facility would bring more people into the club.
"I like [NBCC Inc.] design; it's beautiful," Rodriguez said outside council chambers. "But they're being disingenuinous saying it's not going to bring more people in."
The new banquet facility would increase by 1,500 square feet to 3,243 and accommodate 250 guests.
BRYCE ALDERTON is the golf writer for the Daily Pilot. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.