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Public shifts council consideration of sites for new Newport community center

Newport Beach City Council members on Tuesday crossed off one of two sites under consideration for a new community center in West Newport — and introduced a new alternative.

With declining community support, the area at Superior Avenue and West Coast Highway, across from Sunset Ridge Park, will no longer be considered for the new building.

Instead, city leaders will continue to gather more information on what a community center might look like at the end of 16th Street, a site now serving as a municipal yard. They will also consider a new location proposed by Mayor Pro Tem Ed Selich: a city-owned lot at Monrovia Avenue and 15th Street where Road & Track Magazine used to operate.

To collect input on the two locations initially proposed, city staff held a community meeting earlier this month and launched an online poll.

Residents' preferences seemed roughly equal between the two last week, but the Superior Avenue site in particular raised questions of safe access, said Councilwoman Nancy Gardner, who suggested its elimination from consideration during the council's regular meeting.

"Arguments against were so much stronger than the arguments for," she said. "And that other site just didn't have a lot of these same issues."

Additional votes submitted over the weekend further reflected a change toward favoring the 16th Street site over Superior Avenue, said Assistant City Manager Steve Badum.

"As usual the wisdom of the council is coming through," he said, while residents expressed relief in light of the council's discussion.

Council members had discussed a purchase offer on the Monrovia lot during a closed session, but Selich suggested it could provide an attractive new alternative.

The city bought the lot and office building for $4.3 million in 2012. The property had been rezoned for residential use in 2010, and its owner sued the city for inverse condemnation, claiming the change rendered the building useless. The suit was dropped after the sale to Newport Beach.

Selich noted that the site offers proximity to the future Newport Banning Ranch development, which is slated to integrate open space and parks with commercial and residential buildings.

Both proposed sites for the community center are roughly half a mile or less from the metal finishing facility Hixson Metal Finishing, which the county health officer said earlier this year was emitting "elevated levels" of a toxic air contaminant.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control were working with the company to reduce its emissions and address contaminated soil, according to an April news release.

The air contaminant, hexavalent chromium, poses a cancer risk, though officials noted at the time that risk of cancer from air pollution was still lower in the area surrounding the facility than in much of the rest of the Los Angeles Basin.


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