Legion hall going to stay put

June Casagrande

BALBOA PENINSULA -- The American Legion Hall won't be razed after all

to make way for a new luxury resort because the developer, in hopes of

winning legionnaires' blessing, has changed his plans to build the

project at the Marinapark mobile home park instead.

The change is just one of several that developer Stephen Sutherland

has made to his proposed resort in hopes of getting it on the Nov. 5

ballot.

His new plans, which he expects to file with the city early next week,

include a reduction in the number of guest rooms from 156 to an estimated

144, rebuilt tennis courts open to the public, landscaping improvements

to the public park at 15th Street and a new headquarters for the Girl

Scouts now at the site.

"The project is changing," said Sutherland, president of Sutherland

Talla Hospitality. "It has been redesigned so it no longer utilizes any

of the American Legion facilities or marina."

Sutherland said he thought the changes would help him attain an

ambitious schedule that, if the Planning Commission and City Council

approve the project, would put the issue on the general election ballot

in November.

Under the city's Greenlight Initiative, the project will require

approval by voters. Sutherland believes it would be better to get the

project on the November ballot rather than hold a special Greenlight

election at a later date.

"People don't typically take the time to vote in a special election

unless they have very strong feelings about the ballot measure,"

Sutherland said. "With the general election, we have a much higher

turnout of people going to the polls. I think this resort is going to

have appeal to residents of Newport Beach, and I want to have the

opportunity to have the most registered voters possible make the final

decision on whether this hotel is going to move forward or not."

The first test will be the members of American Legion Post 291. The

City Council has said, and Sutherland agrees, that without legionnaires'

say-so, the project goes nowhere. But first, legionnaires said, they want

a long-term lease agreement on the public land they've been leasing from

the city for $1 per year. A council subcommittee is drafting a proposed

lease and expects to hammer out within three weeks a lease that could

guarantee the legion hall's home for up to 50 years.

"We've got to get that done before we even think about anything else.

If we don't have a lease, there's nothing to think about," said J.T.

Tarwater, commander of the legion hall.

Tarwater noted, though, that the change could make the project more

favorable to legionnaires, some of whom were resistant to the original

proposal to raze the hall and build a new one at the opposite side of the

10-acre property.

"I can tell you that staying where we are is most important to

everybody at the legion," Tarwater said.

Sutherland hopes to get the issue in front of the Planning Commission,

and possibly the City Council, within the next 30 days to initiate the

general plan amendment process required for projects of this size.

If environmental studies are completed in time, and if the council

gives its ultimate blessing, voters will get the final say.

Sutherland plans to emphasize what he sees as the project's benefits

for Newport Beach residents. He said that public beach access will be

improved, the resort's grounds will be accessible to the public, the city

will earn about $3 million a year in taxes and land-use fees, and he said

the project will draw little or no additional traffic and could actually

reduce the number of peak-hour car trips to the site.

* June Casagrande covers Newport Beach. She may be reached at (949)

574-4232 or by e-mail at o7 june.casagrande@latimes.comf7 .

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