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Coast Inn gets OK from Laguna Beach City Council for renovations

The Coast Inn in Laguna Beach got the permits and approvals from the City Council to start renovations.
The Coast Inn in Laguna Beach got the permits and approvals from the City Council to start renovations.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Plans to remodel the closed Coast Inn on 1401 S. Coast Hwy. are now official after years in city planning channels, following 4-1 vote by the Laguna Beach City Council that approved the project on Tuesday.

The City Council voted to approve the project, with Councilwoman Toni Iseman dissenting, but included provisions in the plans to scale back the size of a proposed rooftop deck to 2,500 square feet and reduce the number of umbrellas proportionately.

Rooftop signage will also be removed from the project.

Over 100 emails were sent to City Council both in support and against the project, but speakers Tuesday were largely against it.

Laguna Beach city staff said occupancy of the Coast Inn rooftop deck will be limited to 101 people.
Laguna Beach city staff said occupancy of the Coast Inn rooftop deck will be limited to 101 people.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

Discussion focused on the rooftop deck, which would require variances — a deviation from rules a municipality can use to guide land use — for building height to allow for the construction decks on the ocean-facing side of the hotel, reconstruction of historic towers and installation of a non-permanent umbrella system.

“It’s not fine dining. It’s not a spa,” Councilman Peter Blake said. “We’ve got to give them something.”

“Twenty-four people are not going to come and spend money to stay in this hotel unless they have some reason to do it and [property owner Chris Dornin] is not going to spend this kind of money to totally restore this hotel unless somehow or another, he has a way of recouping it,” Blake said.

“We have to come to terms with the fact that, ‘Are we willing to give a variance so we could incentivize historicity in this town?’” Blake said. “If not, we’re going to see these buildings get scraped.”

Mayor Bob Whalen said he agreed, but felt that the rooftop deck could be made smaller to eliminate the need for a variance. Councilwoman Sue Kempf agreed with both council members, adding that she felt that incentives needed to be available to developers but that the city needed to also benefit from the project.

Council members voted, as part of the approval, for the applicant to pay an in-lieu parking fee, which will allow developers to pay a designated fee rather than provide some or all parking spaces required by the city’s zoning code.

The Coast Inn in Laguna Beach on Friday.
The Coast Inn in Laguna Beach on Friday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The City Council first heard the project in January 2018, but continued the project for council subcommittees and continued discussion. It was initially scheduled to come before the City Council in April, but the hearing was postponed to June due to the COVID-19 pandemic before being tabled for July.

It was first introduced to the city in a concept review in 2015.

The revised project included restoration of the Coast Inn; remodeling of the hotel’s 24 rooms and existing restaurant; a proposed 3,707-square-foot rooftop bar and spa with outdoor dining and alcohol; new rooftop signs and rooftop mechanical equipment. Rehabilitation of the property will include plastering, reconstruction of historic turrets and the rooftop signage.

City staff said occupancy of the rooftop deck will be limited to 101 people and the hours of operation were proposed to be 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Access will be restricted to hotel guests.

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