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Cottage preservation ordinance advances in Newport Beach

Mid-20th-century cottages in Newport Beach alternate with taller, more contemporary homes in older neighborhoods.
(Courtesy of city of Newport Beach)

Owners of historical cottages in Newport Beach’s oldest neighborhoods are closer to having the preservation of their homes’ vintage charm make more financial sense.

The City Council unanimously gave tentative approval Tuesday night to a cottage preservation ordinance that would allow additions of up to 50% of existing floor area, with a 750-square-foot maximum, and provide relief from a requirement to bring the full structure up to current code when renovations hit a certain value level.

Homes restored under the program would be barred from being offered as short-term lodging.

The cottages are not limited to certain eras or architectural styles but typically are smaller, single-story and found in Corona del Mar, Balboa Island, Balboa Peninsula and Newport Heights — Newport’s original neighborhoods with a heritage as vacation enclaves in the early and mid-20th century.

Most of the cottages are, in planning and zoning parlance, “grandfathered” “nonconforming” properties because they don’t meet current parking standards. As such, they are limited to additions of no more than 10% of existing floor area. That can be as little as 80 or 100 square feet for the homes, which typically were built in the 1930s, ‘40s or ‘50s for quick getaways, not daily living.

Renovation projects in Newport Beach have a valuation threshold — if a homeowner spends more than 50% of the structure’s value on improvements, the whole building must be brought up to code. That includes the parking.

With today’s high property values, the restrictions could be difficult to pencil out financially, leading to regretful tear-downs instead of remodels, city staff has said.

The council will take a final vote on the ordinance Feb. 11. The new rules also are subject to review by the California Coastal Commission, as many of the eligible properties are a short distance from shore.

Housing resolution

As expected, the council unanimously approved a resolution opposing the methods used to calculate the 4,832 new housing units the state says Newport Beach must accommodate over the next decade.

The 3½-page resolution criticizes the methods of the Southern California Assn. of Governments as abrupt, unvetted, lacking local input and undermining the integrity of what should be a collaborative process.

Though the state doesn’t require the homes to be built, cities must at least plan for the need through zoning for residential development.

Neighboring Laguna Beach and Costa Mesa have passed similar resolutions.

Newport also plans to formally appeal its housing number as part of its “firmly challenge and plan to comply” response.

Lobbyist registration

The council also unanimously gave tentative approval to a local lobbyist registry.

The system would require lobbyists who approach the city in hopes of influencing policy, permitting or spending decisions to disclose any campaign contributions over the previous year and identify their clients when appearing at city meetings or before staff.

Lobbyists also would be subject to fines that steeply increase from $50 for a first unintentional violation of the rules to $500 for a second and $1,000 for a third and any subsequent violations. Intentional violations would bring a $5,000 penalty.

Violators would be posted on the city’s website.

The penalties for second and third inadvertent violations increased five-fold from a previous draft of the ordinance.

The city clerk’s office would handle the registry.

The council will take a final vote on the matter Feb. 11.

Council members previously considered lobbyist registration in a package of local reforms that included a grace period for fixing violations of municipal campaign contribution limits.

The council approved the contributions procedures but tapped the brakes on the lobbyist portion when it came time for the final OK in order to honor a community request to give more feedback.

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