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Mariner’s Mile office and parking garage project gets OK from Newport commission over neighbors’ resistance

Garden Office
A rendering shows an office building and adjoining parking garage planned for Riverside Avenue in Newport Beach.
(Courtesy of city of Newport Beach)

An office building and attached parking garage are cleared to rise off Mariner’s Mile in Newport Beach, despite residents’ concerns that the project’s cumulative effects will threaten the quality of life in their adjacent Newport Heights neighborhood.

The city Planning Commission voted 6-1 on Thursday night to approve development of a roughly 2,750-square-foot, two-story office building with suites for one or two tenants, plus a 41-space, roofless two-level parking garage that would replace a larger office building and small surface lot at 215 Riverside Ave., about a block off West Coast Highway at Avon Street.

Landowner Gary Jabara said he’s been on a “seven-year journey to kind of improve a piece of Mariner’s Mile” and detailed how he has redeveloped neighboring pockets, including the home of the popular C’est Si Bon Bakery, with initial opposition.

He noted that the garage could be used for employees of the cluster of properties beyond the new offices and called it a relief for the neighborhood, where many workers now try to squeeze into street spaces.

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Scott Laidlaw, the project’s architect, said it is an improvement that swaps out an 8,000-square-foot “old and tired and dilapidated” office building erected around 1962 that had, until about three years ago, also housed a restaurant.

Several residents accused Jabara of “piecemealing” to diffuse scrutiny in an attempt to build and support a new restaurant across Avon at 2902 W. Coast Hwy. and said the commission’s decision should be made in tandem with the restaurant.

The restaurant is being considered separately and wasn’t on Thursday’s agenda.

“Just by virtue of the fact that they’re located in the same area is not, in and of itself, a reason to require that the projects be considered together, nor is it illegal or improper for the city to consider them as separate applications,” said Susan Hori, an attorney for Jabara.

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Assistant City Attorney Yolanda Summerhill confirmed that city staff sees the two as independent ventures.

Commission Vice Chairman Erik Weigand cast the dissenting vote Thursday because he wanted to combine consideration of the office building and garage with the restaurant.

The vote had already been delayed three times since the project was introduced in August.

The proposed parking structure drew the most criticism from homeowners on a nearby hillside who said they’re concerned about traffic, noise and light.

Hori said a noise study using a similar property in Lake Forest showed the face lift wouldn’t make an impact, especially in the already busy area off West Coast Highway.

However, neighbor Kevin Healy said fog off Newport Harbor amplifies and carries sound up the bluff and into the neighborhood.

“What might sound as a minor complaint, like a beeper or a door being slammed shut or something, keep in mind it’s about five times louder than one might think with this marine layer we live in,” he said.

Laidlaw submitted about 150 signed form letters supporting the project at 215 Riverside, many of them from Newport Heights.

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“This structure has been carefully designed not to impact the views of residents, and the added landscape perimeter creates a buffer between homes and the structure,” the letters state.

Others wrote letters in opposition over the potential for the West Coast Highway restaurant offering rooftop dining and serving alcohol.

“Our home value and quality of life is now being jeopardized by the proposed rooftop restaurant,” wrote Bruce Choate, who lives on the bluff just above the proposed garage site. “We would be forced to keep our windows closed on beautiful summer nights because of the noise, and our drapes drawn because of the lights.”

Harold Woods, who also lives on the bluff, wrote that “although I recognize that progress and development are invaluable and inevitable, the foregoing proposed projects will create a severe hardship for those of us who live directly adjacent. These hardships — including excessive noise, air pollution, light pollution and extended hours of operation — will adversely affect my quality of life.”

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