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Laguna Beach planners recommend changes to proposed Museum Hotel following residents’ backlash

A rendering of the proposed Museum Hotel project on Coast Highway between Jasmine Street and Cliff Drive.
Laguna Beach residents and planning commissioners gave their thoughts on preliminary designs for the Museum Hotel project, shown in this rendering, during a meeting Wednesday. The proposed hotel would be on property owned by the Laguna Beach Co. on North Coast Highway between Jasmine Street and Cliff Drive.
(File Illustration)

For millionaire real estate investor Mo Honarkar, the Museum Hotel project that his firm is proposing to build in Laguna Beach would be a new landmark for the city: “My gift to you, my family’s gift to you.”

Some residents, though, used another word to describe it: “monstrosity.”

The proposal underwent its first concept review before the city Planning Commission on Wednesday — a contentious, hours-long hearing that saw residents and commissioners make several suggestions and recommendations on how to revise the project, which is still in the design phase.

“At this point, in my opinion, [there’s] a significant amount of work and revision that needs to be done to achieve that approvable project that we ultimately want to get to,” said commission Chairman Ken Sadler.

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The Museum Hotel, planned for North Coast Highway between Jasmine Street and Cliff Drive, is one of six major development projects proposed by the Honarkar-owned Laguna Beach Co.

“This hotel will bring tourists that would spend money in this town. Trust me,” Honarkar told the commission. “They will go to art galleries. They will go to restaurants, go to shops. They’ll bring sales tax revenue ... and help our locals. This hotel will create jobs and help our local economy.”

The Museum Hotel would be built on seven contiguous lots owned by the Laguna Beach Co. It would be three stories tall, have 118 rooms and is expected to include a rooftop pool and garden, an art gallery, retail space and a three-level subterranean parking garage.

In reviewing the project’s conceptual plans, city staff identified issues with its density — the site allows for only 74 rooms, not the proposed 118 — as well as a lack of open space.

the Museum Hotel
Initial designs from the Laguna Beach Co. call for the Museum Hotel to be three stories tall and have 118 rooms.
(File Illustration)

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Current city estimates for parking demand also do not include the additional spaces required for employees or take into account the hours of operation, which haven’t been set yet, according to staff.

The number of required parking spaces also could depend on whether the hotel decides to issue passes for non-guests to use the pool and whether there would be a conference area or meeting rooms.

The project also doesn’t meet several design review guidelines, according to staff.

Several members of the public who spoke in favor of the project Wednesday said it could attract younger people to the city and increase business, but opponents raised concerns about the height of the buildings, saying they could obstruct their views.

Other areas of concern included the potential for increased traffic in the area and negative impacts on privacy, noise and parking in general.

Commissioners suggested lowering the height to two stories, conducting a traffic study and revising the project so it meets the city’s zoning requirements.

Commissioner Steven Goldman also asked the Laguna Beach Co. to craft an “articulation of the identity and personality of the hotel” after some residents questioned why there should be a hotel in a space with no oceanfront view.

“What does the hotel want to be and what should it be?” Goldman said.

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The commission also recommended that the company return with an updated version of the project for additional review before formally submitting its application for the development.

Company representatives could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday regarding the commission’s recommendations.

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