The next step in the long-discussed renovation of the shuttered Balboa Theater will have to wait a bit more after the item was tabled at Thursday’s Newport Beach Planning Commission meeting.
City staff asked the commission to postpone the matter to a date to be determined. Deputy Community Development Director Jim Campbell said the renovation proposal “needs a little bit additional work.”
Newport Beach resident and local policy watchdog Jim Mosher thinks he knows what that work is.
In a detailed note to the city, he said the proposal as written by property owner Lab Holding LLC, to include a rooftop deck that would bring the historical building’s height to 48 feet, doesn’t comply with the Local Coastal Plan’s height limitations, meaning the project shouldn’t receive a needed coastal development permit. A vote on a coastal development permit was on Thursday night’s agenda.
Lab Holding proposes to renovate the Balboa Theater as a performing arts and special events space, with a facade reconstruction — featuring storefront windows that open and a re-created marquee — plus the rooftop deck and a cafe with outdoor seating. The reimagined theater would have 264 seats; the original had 450.
The theater, at 707 E. Balboa Blvd., is in what the city calls the Shoreline Height Limitation Zone, where buildings must be under 35 feet, with the exceptions of the Lido House hotel and the Marina Park lighthouse feature, Mosher said.
He said expired coastal development permits issued years ago by the state during previous attempts to revive the theater limited summer operations to give priority to beach visitors, who, like theater guests, could park in the Balboa Pier lot. The theater is about a quarter-mile from the beach. The California Coastal Commission approved developments close to the water until the city adopted its Local Coastal Plan in 2016.
One other public comment opposed the building’s proposed height. The city received nine letters of support.
Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis said Mosher’s objections were not why the city pulled the item, but “we are reviewing the conditions of approval.”
The Balboa Theater was built in 1927 and operated into the 1990s. It closed in 1992, and the city bought it six years later for $480,000.
Private fundraising in the early 2010s intended to renovate and reopen the theater did not pan out, and a 2014 city effort to turn it into a municipal-run fine-arts center also found little widespread support.
In 2016, the city sold the property for $1 million to Lab Holding, known for developing the Camp and the Lab shopping areas in Costa Mesa.