A 25-story luxury condominium tower slated to replace the Orange County Museum of Art in Newport Beach cleared a major hurdle Thursday night.
After about three hours of discussion and public comment, the city Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the 295-foot-tall Museum House development, pointing to what commissioners called its high-quality design and a demand for more housing near Fashion Island in Newport Center.
"We should be so lucky to have what could be a world-class, five-star multifamily development in the heart of our city," said commission Chairman Kory Kramer. "It could be one of the most beautiful buildings and projects not only in Newport Beach but in all of Orange County."
Related California LLC's proposal for the 100-unit project would require demolishing the art museum, which has occupied the 2-acre site at 850 San Clemente Drive since 1978.
Museum officials have said they realized about a decade ago that they had outgrown their space in Newport Center, and earlier this year the organization announced plans for a new building in Costa Mesa near the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Related California has entered an agreement to eventually buy the museum site, which would help fund its move, officials say.
"I'm obviously pleased with the result, but this is just one step," Related California Chairman and Chief Executive Bill Witte said after the vote. "I've been gratified by the amount of public support we've received for this project."
For Museum House to keep moving forward, the City Council will have to affirm the Planning Commission's recommendation to approve a general plan amendment changing the property's land use from private institutional to multi-unit residential, with a limit of 100 units.
Commissioners praised architect Robert A.M. Stern's design for the building, which they said would fit seamlessly with Newport Center's style. The exterior would consist of limestone and precast concrete with bronze features and large windows. The building would taper as it rises.
The tower's 100 condominiums would consist of 54 two-bedroom units with three bathrooms and 46 three-bedroom units with four bathrooms. Each unit would have a private balcony.
The condos are proposed to vary from 1,800 to 6,000 square feet and be priced from $2 million to $4 million.
Museum House also would contain a common area with a media room, library, viewing deck and concierge. Its second level would have additional common space, including a terrace with a garden and barbecue grills, a fitness and spa area, a pool and an outdoor kitchen. A pet spa and a wine cellar also are planned.
The project is proposed to include 200 resident and 50 guest parking spaces. Valet parking would be provided onsite.
Commissioners agreed with city staff that the land-use change would further the city's goal — outlined in its general plan — of providing opportunities for residents to live close to jobs, retail and entertainment in Newport Center.
"I think there's a very strong demand for this type of product and a limited supply," Commissioner Raymond Lawler said.
However, several residents who spoke during the meeting took issue with the project's height and raised concerns about more residences bringing increased traffic to what they said is an already congested area.
Activist group Still Protecting Our Newport and political action committee Line in the Sand said they received more than 900 signatures on an online petition against the project.
"Newport Beach should not be stuck with a luxury condo tower that would forever change the look and feel of the heart of our town so the museum can fund the next chapter of its history in another city," SPON President Marko Popovich wrote in a letter to the commission. "It is a lose-lose proposition for Newport Beach residents."
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