Coastal Panel OKs Peninsula Resort : Rancho Palos Verdes: State commission backs city in clearing way for hotel and conference center at oceanfront site of defunct Marineland.
The California Coastal Commission on Wednesday approved plans for a posh 450-room resort complex on the rugged Palos Verdes Peninsula, despite environmentalists’ concerns that the project is “wildly out of scale” with the surrounding coastline.
The state panel voted 9-0 to uphold the city of Rancho Palos Verdes’ approval of the project at the former Marineland site, as long as the developer agreed to provide a public park and to donate $540,000 for a South Bay youth hostel.
Opponents of the project, who appealed to the commission after the city approved the project last July, said they will consider filing a lawsuit to block the development, which they contend does not comply with local planning guidelines.
But Mayor Douglas Hinchliffe applauded the commission’s decision, saying it vindicated the city’s position on the project. City officials have worked for five years with the developer to make the resort hotel a reality.
“We believe that this is a good project,” Hinchliffe told the panel. “It was supported unanimously by the city Planning Commission and the City Council. And I believe that the community supports this unanimously--with the few exceptions that you will hear today.”
Members of Save Our Coastline 2000 contended that the project violates coastal development guidelines and would severely inhibit public access to the pristine site.
“This City Council has run our city into the ground and we’re trying to save it,” said Lois LaRue, a member of the environmental group.
Unless the group files a lawsuit to block the development, the commission’s action gives Arizona developer James Monaghan the go-ahead for the controversial project after years of heated debate.
Since Marineland closed in 1987, council members have maintained that a resort was an appropriate use for the 102-acre oceanfront site. The resort plans include a 450-room luxury hotel, a golf course and a recreation and conference center. City planners said that the developer will also be required to provide access to numerous hiking trails, as well as bicycle and bridle paths.
City officials say the hotel is the best way to improve the city’s largely residential tax base. The resort is expected to generate $1.7 million annually in new city revenues.
However, opponents say any merits of the project are overshadowed by the coastal development laws they believe have been violated. Terrell Watt, a planning consultant representing Save Our Coastline 2000, said that the Local Coastal Plan adopted by the city and the Coastal Commission is “thoroughly confusing and outdated.”
“Every land use consideration in the (plan) centers on the continued existence of Marineland,” she told the panel. “Nothing in the plan provides for a destination resort hotel with all the amenities. When it comes to a project like this, the (local Coastal Plan) is silent.”
Commissioner Madelyn Glickfeld agreed that there was confusion in the local planning guidelines and said that she was concerned that the hotel does not provide anything but very expensive accommodations.
But coastal planners said that providing both upscale and less costly accommodations at oceanfront resorts historically has been resisted by developers and suggested instead the $540,000 fee to compensate for the loss of public access at Long Point, where Marineland was located. The money will be used to either build or refurbish a youth hostel somewhere along the South Bay coast, according to state planners.
Attorney Dale Neal, representing the developer, opposed the imposition of the fee, saying it was based on the “false proposition” that the resort would result in the loss of public access to the site.
“Marineland didn’t provide the free public access that this (project) does,” Neal told commissioners. “There is no need for this huge fee.”
However, opponents of the project, noting that the development is expected to cost in excess of $200 million, said that the fee should be increased, if anything.
“We think it is a massive hotel for the site and it ought to be severely downsized,” Watt said. “But the bottom line is that the debate should return to the city so the community can discuss whether a resort hotel is an appropriate use for the site. And if we go to court, that is the issue we will address.”