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HUNTINGTON BEACH : City Gives Priority to Downtown Project

When the brick wall of a 75-year-old downtown building developed a troubling bulge this month, it illustrated what many city officials and residents have been saying about the area.

After two decades of painstaking planning, the city must finally face the task of deciding how and when it will complete its downtown redevelopment project, officials say.

The unexpected swell that suddenly appeared Dec. 9 on the side of Jack’s Surfboards, Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, prompted the evacuation of the shop and its top-story apartments for an indefinite period. Like many structures in the aging neighborhood, the building’s badly needed renovations have long been on hold as future development proposals are mulled and scrutinized.

Now, eight years and dozens of scrapped proposals after the council approved the original master plan for the downtown area, the new council has targeted the redevelopment project as its priority for the coming year.

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During the council’s first meeting since the election of three new council members and selection of Peter M. Green as mayor, it adopted a detailed schedule for developing a definitive new downtown plan within the next months.

City Administrator Michael T. Uberuaga, who is nearing the end of his first year at the job, has also strongly recommended that an updated, detailed plan for the area be implemented.

“The time has come for us to get moving on this,” said Councilman Jack Kelly, who served on the council from 1980 to 1988 before returning this month. “We do not have a conceptual plan or anything else on paper to look at and say yes or no to.”

The council has planned a series of meetings among city officials, developers and residents during the new year. The council hopes to approve the new redevelopment project by April 1, which could be in place by June if adopted by the California Coastal Commission, officials say.

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To date, the 336-acre downtown redevelopment plan has been riddled with delays and glitches, has sharply divided the community and has satisfied no one.

The original concept for the area, which was enacted in 1982 and included towering condominium complexes and hotels, is moot.

“Until about a month ago, the city’s plans for downtown have basically been running amok,” said Douglas Langevin, a downtown property owner and one of those leading critics. But with council members and city planners retraining their sights on developing the downtown area, redevelopment advocates and opponents alike are hopeful about the prospects.

The first step in honing the new plan will be to clearly define the “village concept” that the council three years ago agreed the area should reflect.

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Council members and other city officials differ widely on their interpretations of the concept. Some say it entails a quaint, low-density housing and small shops, while others believe it suggests a bustling, high-rise, Westwood-style retail hub.

First in line among the planned projects is the critical, second phase of the Main-Pier project: a two-block area of 1920s-era apartments and shops, including Jack’s Surfboards, bound by Pacific Coast Highway, Walnut Avenue and 6th and Main streets.

“Right now, that area looks like a slum,” Mayor Pro Tem Jim Silva said.

Despite the obstacles, Green said he is confident that this council can finally reinvigorate the stagnant downtown effort.

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“And now is as good a time as any . . . to look critically at each individual project and develop a solid, working plan for the entire area.”


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