Height of elevator at proposed CdM blufftop house draws rising opposition

The elevator goes all the way to the top, and that’s a problem for many people.

A proposed three-story house at 2607 Ocean Blvd., atop a bluff in Corona del Mar, needs five zoning code variances for its owner to realize his vision on a narrow, steep lot.

The Newport Beach Planning Commission wasn’t ready to agree to the proposal when it took up the matter Thursday night, and clearly neither were dozens of residents from around the city.

Among the exceptions for which owner Darrin Ginsberg needs approval are exceeding the maximum floor area as dictated by the lot’s dimensions and, notable for observers and the Planning Commission, exceeding the height limit due to a chimney-like elevator shaft and a guardrail around the rooftop pool area. An elevator shaft for a home can be no higher than 29 feet. This one would be 36.

With all the variances needed to bring the house to fruition, commission Chairman Peter Koetting told builder Tom Nicholson of Nicholson Construction that “you’re asking for the moon.”

“It’s a challenging piece of land,” Nicholson replied.

After about two hours of discussion, Koetting and the rest of the commissioners voted to continue the item to their Dec. 7 meeting.

City planning staff said the variances are acceptable.

The lot is a 4,257-square-foot asymmetrical rectangle on a slope with a 35-degree grade difference. The house would total about 5,200 square feet, including a 683-square-foot garage. Without the variances, the house would be limited to 2,865 square feet, substantially smaller than what could go on a regular rectangular plot in Corona del Mar, according to a city staff report.

Several nearby homes are more than 5,000 square feet.

The project drew more than 40 letters of opposition. Many critics said the size of the house is an example of “gross overbuilding” that crams a house onto a lot too small for it and blocks views of the ocean. Several said that minimum setbacks and height limits are encoded for a reason and that granting exceptions creates an unfair “special privilege” for an owner who wants a sprawling house with roof access via elevator.

Others decried the house as “mansionization” and “a monstrosity which is totally out of step with our neighborhood.”

One opponent told the commission that “if you approve, you are opening a can of worms like no other.”

But John Ramirez, a representative of Nicholson Construction, listed six other houses on Ocean Boulevard that have assorted variances. And a house a few doors down from Ginsberg’s property has a 61-foot-tall elevator shaft, he said.

“We’re only asking for a 36-foot-high elevator,” Ramirez said. “I’m just trying to put in context the request, because when you read a public notice it can seem like it’s coming across as extreme.”

A three-story, 2,260-square-foot house, built in 1948, currently stands on the site.

A scale model of the new home shows a sleek, modern design with a three-car garage, floor-to-ceiling windows on the two living-area floors, wrap-around balconies and an expansive rooftop recreation area with an open-air bar, a barbecue and a glass-bottom pool.

Ginsberg said he doesn’t want to alienate his neighbors. He said that even though the protruding elevator shaft wouldn’t block views, he’s willing to stop the elevator at the third floor or move it.

Ginsberg said several nearby homes are larger than the one he hopes to build. “That is not a large house by the neighborhood standards,” he said.

But Koetting didn’t like that comparison.

“They’re on bigger lots,” he said. “Real simple.”

Martha Peyton, who lives about a block away, also was turned off by the “sheer bulk” of the proposed building.

“That to me is totally indefensible and totally disrespects those of us in Corona del Mar who read the zoning requirements and take them seriously,” she said.

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