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Discussion for Coast Inn remodel delayed to July by Laguna Beach City Council

The Laguna Beach Planning Commission
The Laguna Beach Planning Commission recommended denial of the proposed remodel in Oct. 2017, but staff reports said that the project has been significantly scaled back.
(Courtesy of Marshall Ininns)

Plans for a remodel at Coast Inn will be delayed another month after the Laguna Beach City Council postponed discussion to July 28, in a 4-1 vote with Councilwoman Toni Iseman dissenting, to provide staff more time to analyze new details.

The restaurant at the inn on 1401 S. Coast Hwy. would be able to operate without a conditional use permit. Conditional use permits were not required at the time the structure was built, Community Development Director Marc Wiener said.

The project has been stuck in city development channels, having first been introduced at a concept review to the Heritage Committee in 2015. It was initially scheduled to come before the City Council in April, but the hearing was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Initial proposals for the project included historic structure restoration, upper level additions, elevated decks, a new 3,707-square-foot pool, spa and deck area, air conditioning equipment and art in public places and landscaping, a staff report prepared for Tuesday’s meeting said.

Expanding restaurant services to the rooftop would require acquisition of a conditional use permit, which would establish occupancy limits and hours of operation to mitigate potential impacts on neighbors.

The Laguna Beach City Council moved to pass an ordinance that would amend the Downtown Specific Plan’s current requirements for conditional use permits and parking to a second reading.

Wiener said the city was notified Monday that the project developers no longer wanted to provide food service on the rooftop deck. Developers also raised the question of whether the city could impose conditional use requirements on the restaurant now that its services were no longer being expanded.

Wiener also said that project developers would like to open up access to the rooftop for hotel guests to bring other guests or associates. The proposed conditional use permit for the remodel limits rooftop access to guests only. Wiener said expanding access and occupancy of the deck could make it difficult to apply some of the California Environmental Quality Act exemptions necessary for the remodel.

Property owner Chris Dornin said Tuesday that he and the city were in agreement to limit occupancy of the rooftop deck to the maximum number of hotel guests only, but that it was not financially viable to have security guards checking the IDs of visitors to ensure they were guests of the 24-room hotel.

The hotel has a maximum guest occupancy of 96, city staff said.

City staff said the project would require a new analysis and recommended to City Council that discussion on the project be tentatively delayed to October or to return the project to the Planning Commission in August.

“A lot of these changes happened just yesterday afternoon or evening and today, so I don’t believe that the staff has had the time to appropriately analyze them. The city attorney [Philip Kohn] needs additional time as well to review some of the legal arguments that have been made,” City Manager John Pietig said.

Dornin said Tuesday that it was “frustrating that we’re being stuck in a city process,” describing it as erroneous and in need of greater collaboration.

“A year ago, we decided to scale the project way, way back as a result of the City Council hearing and the subcommittee hearing,” Dornin said. “When we were preparing for our City Council hearing in February, we submitted a letter articulating that. There’s two entities here that are completely separate.”

The majority of speakers called for the City Council to delay the discussion and described the project as a “moving target,” with Iseman saying that she wanted to see it returned to the Planning Commission.

Discussion will be continued until the July 28 council meeting, which will change the date for a planned discussion on the second reading for amendments to the Downtown Specific Plan to July 21.

Councilman Peter Blake said he felt the council should hear the project before sending it back to the Planning Commission.

“In reality, we all know this is going to get appealed back to Coastal [Commission] and it’s also going to be fought in the courts over CEQA,” Blake said.

Blake said he wanted the City Council to approve the project from their “comfort zone” and allow the project to go through the courts and the state before it returns to the council to determine whether or not the project should return to the Planning Commission. He added he was willing to hear the project Tuesday night.

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