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Corona del Mar property owner drops bid for disputed mansion

Ocean Blvd. model
A model of the original design for 2607 Ocean Blvd. The Newport Beach Planning Commission approved a modified version of the home in 2017, but the applicant withdrew his request for a development permit as the California Coastal Commission was preparing to reject it Thursday.
(File Photo)

The would-be resident of a controversial seaside mansion planned for Newport Beach abandoned his request for a development permit seconds before a doubting California Coastal Commission was set to vote it down.

Darrin Ginsberg withdrew his request through his attorney Thursday evening after several commissioners said the 4,500-square-foot, three-story blufftop mansion proposed for 2607 Ocean Blvd. — to be equipped with an elevator and crowned with a glass-bottom pool on its rooftop deck overlooking Corona del Mar’s China Cove beach — would be too big for the lot and eat up too much of the ocean view.

Commissioner Mike Wilson said he wanted to conserve what’s left of the views and the blufftop’s natural resources.

“The idea that we get to build out more because it’s mostly built out [already] — we don’t use that same logic when we talk about wetlands, which we have filled in 90% of around the state,” he said.

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The disputed mansion has been the subject of on-and-off criticism the past two years as Ginsberg and his representatives sought approvals to build. Neighbors were divided, with some offering withering feedback.

City staff suggested the Newport Beach Planning Commission approve the permit with variances to accommodate the irregularly shaped lot. The Planning Commission wasn’t so sure, taking two meetings to hash out a compromise that passed on a split vote in 2017. The commission’s meetings drew many comments from neighbors.

Resident Jim Mosher, a regular watchdog of Newport government and policy, promptly filed an appeal on grounds that the variance approvals violated the city’s state-sanctioned Local Coastal Program, which guides development closest to the shore. He routed his appeal straight to the Coastal Commission rather than pay a $1,500 fee to have it heard by the City Council.

The matter then sat with the state until this week.

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Coastal Commission staff appeared to back the project with amended plans that would trim the rooftop deck and install more bird-friendly glass barriers but not change the interior floor area or narrow setbacks, the basis of Mosher’s appeal. He contended the variance approvals violated the Local Coastal Program’s standards on maximum floor area and minimum front and back yard setbacks — the buffers between the house and the lot boundaries — because the city had the authority to approve variances only under the local zoning code and not the LCP.

Ocean Blvd house
A rendering depicts a blufftop house proposed for Ocean Boulevard in Corona del Mar. A Newport Beach resident argued that variances for the house were approved counter to the city’s Local Coastal Program and he asked the California Coastal Commission to weigh in.
(File Illustration)

Without variances, the house would be limited to 2,865 square feet, substantially less than what could go on a regular rectangular plot in Corona del Mar.

Ginsberg was not present at Thursday’s Coastal Commission meeting in Calabasas, citing health reasons. His lawyer, former Newport Beach assistant city attorney Michael Torres, said Ginsberg and his team had been responsive to city and Coastal Commission representatives, tweaking plans to reduce size and bulk.

He also floated Ginsberg’s no-strings-attached offer of a $50,000 donation to help Newport Beach improve coastal access elsewhere in the city.

“Anything that could be said has been said, and we’ve had a lot of participation,” said Torres, who advised the Planning Commission as assistant city attorney during its approval of the project and is now in private practice as a land-use attorney. “That’s helped us make a better product, we think.”

Ginsberg’s builder, Tom Nicholson, added, “I don’t think I’ve seen a single-family home with more community outreach, more engagement, more discussions than this in my career.”

Mosher said Thursday that Ocean Boulevard is designated in the city’s general plan as a scenic coastal view road and that the views are “spectacular.” But they are fragmented, he said, and this property is one of the last remaining windows.

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“I treasure these views,” he said. “I hope you do too.”

Torres acknowledged in 2017 and again in an October letter to Coastal Commission staff that the city did not explicitly have variance procedures for the coastal zone when it approved the request.

However, since the Planning Commission’s approval, the Coastal Commission has approved an amendment to Newport’s LCP that allows the city to grant individual waivers and modifications on such development standards. That makes the objections moot, according to a Coastal Commission staff report.

Deputy Director Karl Schwing said Thursday that he didn’t think the home would be out of character for the area, which has several large homes on the bluff.

But commissioners were not swayed.

Commissioner Caryl Hart said the home would lead to a “severely impacted coastal view.”

“It’s too big, it’s too much,” said Commissioner Erik Howell, “and I don’t think I buy the argument that the landscape of the site requires it to be so much larger than what’s there currently,” a lower-slung, 2,300-square-foot house that dates to 1948 and would be razed.

When commission Chairman Steve Padilla asked if there were any objections to a unanimous “no” vote, Torres stepped in to withdraw.

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He didn’t offer further comment.

Any new plans for the site would have to start over at the city level.

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