Country club face-lift faces obstacles

With the Newport Beach Country Club's main event — the Toshiba Classic golf tournament — still fresh in his mind, golf club property owner Robert O Hill wants to upgrade the golf club and adjacent tennis club.

He's getting ready to expand public outreach on the project and slog through the long process of getting approval from Newport Beach and California Coastal Commission officials.

But he can't seem to catch a break from the city. A few months ago, he faced a possible city condemnation of the tennis club property on East Coast Highway near Jamboree Road so the city could build a city hall there. That proposal faded, but now O Hill is disagreeing with city staff over whether the city's general plan needs to be changed to allow 27 bungalows, the heart of his project.

O Hill, the majority property owner in a partnership, has been planning to overhaul the property for eight years, he said. Improvements would include new clubhouses for the Newport Beach Golf Club and Balboa Bay Club Racquet Club, the bungalows, and upgraded golf club parking. Several lots for custom homes would be sold off to raise money for the golf clubhouse.

He's hoping to start construction in June 2008, with the bungalows opening two years later. He patterned the bungalows after amenities at the famed Pebble Beach golf resort in Monterey.

Refurbishing the property would answer the wishes of many, O Hill said. Residents of Irvine Terrace, across Coast Highway from the clubs, would look onto a reconfigured parking lot landscaped with olive trees.

Tennis club members would enjoy a new swimming pool and a stadium court that could seat up to 2,200 people. And most importantly, the private bungalows would draw more marquee players to golf and tennis events, O Hill said.

"These bungalows are going to be very exclusive, very high-end, and a big attraction in keeping marquee names in both golf and tennis," said Ken Stuart, who owns Palisades Tennis Club where the Newport Beach Breakers now play. "It's going to be the frosting on the cake of coming to Newport Beach."

Star players mean tournaments like Toshiba, a senior PGA event that wrapped up Sunday, make more money, and fancy accommodations could draw more tournaments.

The Toshiba Classic is Hoag Hospital's biggest annual fundraiser, and O Hill estimates the bungalows would generate $1 million a year in hotel bed taxes for the city.

But the plans need city approval, and Newport Beach staffers say O Hill needs to apply for a general plan amendment before his project can move forward.

Voters just approved a new citywide general plan, but Newport Beach Assistant City Manager Sharon Wood said it doesn't allow hotel rooms on the tennis or golf club parcels.

O Hill argued that the City Council's intent was to let his project proceed, so the staff interpretation of the general plan isn't correct.

The next step for O Hill may be to have his attorney write to the city to clarify the matter.

"We'll let the land-use lawyers argue it out," he said.

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