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
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
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
"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 firstname.lastname@example.org .