A proposal for 28 artist work/live units in Laguna Canyon received unanimous approval Wednesday from the California Coastal Commission.
In a 9-0 vote, commissioners gave the green light to sculptor Louis Longi and business partner Chris Dornin to build two, two-story structures connected by a common deck across 20412 and 20432 Laguna Canyon Road. The combined parcels are just under an acre.
"For a community that prides itself on being an art colony, and being a good place for artists to live, nothing more exemplifies that than having living and working space," Commissioner Carole Groom said.
Longi and Dornin adjusted the plan from a previous rendition that called for 30 units and included cantilevered decks on the rear of structures closest to Laguna Canyon Creek, which were eliminated from the current plan.
Units will range from 500 square feet to one 1,616 square-foot unit. Building heights will stretch 36 feet above grade with pitched roofs. Eight of the units will be reserved for low-income tenants, and one will go to a moderate-income tenant.
"We need large spaces to work," Longi told commissioners. "I have to use large-scale lifts. It's one of the only areas we have left."
Proponents hailed the project as offering much-needed housing for priced-out artists.
Artist Jorg Dubin said he's been living and working in Laguna since 1976.
"Laguna Beach's cultural heritage is based on the arts community," Dubin said. "Every year that is getting eroded because of the economic costs of living in town."
Opponents said they wanted the buildings moved farther than 25 feet from the center of Laguna Canyon Creek and that the project's size violated standards of the Laguna Canyon Annexation Area Specific Plan, which requires development to be small-scale and rural in nature.
"Most everyone that is opposed to the project has some relationship to artists," said attorney Julie Hamilton, who represented Friends of the Canyon, which sued the commission in March 2015 because of the panel's approval of Longi's project in January 2015. "Most everyone supports the artist live/work concept. This is not the right place for this density."
Resident Jackie Gallagher, one of the Friends of the Canyon members, offered another suggestion for providing artists' housing: so-called "accessory dwelling units," commonly known as granny flats, guest houses or casitas.
"We can spread them throughout the canyon, and the density would stay the same," Gallagher said.
In December Orange County Superior Court Judge Kim Dunning ordered the commission to rehear the matter and revoked a coastal development permit the panel granted in 2015.
In a September hearing, Dunning ruled that commissioners failed to prove that plans for the complex would satisfy setback requirements for the creek, and that the structures were not small enough in scale for the area.
She also considered the January hearing an "unfair process" because six of 10 commissioners did not properly disclose private communications with developers, but still voted on the project.
As a condition of approval Longi must submit a five-year habitat restoration plan that includes removing non-native vegetation on the property, including the banks and stream bed of the creek. The project includes a 504-square-foot retail art gallery and a 45-stall parking garage.