Laguna Beach City Council approves plan for remodel of Coast Liquor and a new cafe

The Laguna Beach City Hall building.
The Laguna Beach City Council approved a plan to remodel the historic Coast Liquor store and add a new cafe on Tuesday.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

A remodel of the Coast Liquor store and a cottage next door that housed athletes from the 1932 Olympic Games was at the center of a discussion during the Laguna Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday night.

After extensive consideration, council members approved 4-1 a modified plan to turn the liquor store into a multitenant building. The Planning Commission had reviewed the project in July and unanimously recommended council approval.

It is the second project submitted by Chris Dornin, the president of the Dornin Investment Group, approved by council members in recent months, after a remodel of Coast Inn received approval in July.

Coast Liquor is at 1391 South Coast Highway and 168 Mountain Road. The plan would include a 1,485-square-foot coffee shop at the corner of the highway and a 1,220-square-foot liquor store. An outdoor dining area was also part of the proposal.

The motion carried by the council calls for the restoration of the liquor store, including installation of a rooftop sign with black letters spelling out the word ‘beverages.’ Council members debated the color of the building, ultimately deciding it will be red in keeping with how it was originally built.

Among the modifications to the proposal, council members did not go along with the plan to have a lower-level retail storage area turned into an office, believing it would intensify use.

Mayor Bob Whalen said he couldn’t go along with the offices down below, but he thought the liquor store and the cafe could be beneficial to the community.

“I think the cafe use is going to be a great local amenity for this neighborhood,” Whalen said. “I think it’s coastal visitor serving.”

Councilman Peter Blake said he felt that the community was going to get better with the new additions.

“I see this incredibly vibrant corner that’s going to end up serving locals because the hip district is a local district, and this cafe is going to become an ancillary service to the locals that live in that community and the people that are in that hotel,” Blake said.

Councilwoman Sue Kempf noted that residents living near Coast Liquor may find it nice to have an option for food and refreshment within walking distance.

“I don’t think people are going to be driving into town and go to the Coast Liquor, but people living in that area are going to walk over there and have coffee and sit outside,” Kempf said. “Sitting outside has gotten hugely popular in our town, and I’d kind of like to see the tables and stuff out on the sidewalk. That’s kind of the way we’re going now.”

Whether or not to light the sign was another contested point. Councilwoman Toni Iseman, the lone dissenter, pointed to wanting to keep Laguna Beach skies dark, something that was not lost among some of the public commenters.

“Dark skies has been important, I think, for Laguna for a long time, and we have a sign ordinance that, thanks to previous council members, has distinguished Laguna from all the other coastal towns,” Iseman said. “All you have to do is drive through at night and go, ‘What is it about Laguna that makes this better?’ It’s the fact that we were in control of the lighting and the signs.”

Council members had been invited to express their views on the sign. Iseman had begun by mentioning that she lived in the neighborhood where the project is to take place when a male voice interjected and said the word “bitch.”

Multiple council members reacted to the profane language, and when the discussion of the item was brought to a close, Iseman requested that the incident be recorded in the minutes and that she planned to identify the person.

“I don’t know if there are any legal consequences we can impose,” Whalen said. “It’s going to be obviously rather embarrassing, and I think somebody ought to be offering an apology.”

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