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Commission rejects plans for surf shop

A proposal for a new surf shop in downtown Laguna Beach wiped out at the Planning Commission hearing June 27.

The commission refused Jack’s Surf & Sport application to open a store on Ocean Avenue, based on conflicts with the city’s Downtown Specific Plan and other policies. The 4-0 vote — Commissioner Norm Grossman absent — reflected the staff recommendation for denial.

“It was one of the most astonishing applications I have seen since I was appointed to the commission,” Anne Johnson said. “They were asking for a variance to avoid 12 required parking spaces; they wanted to convert housing into retail space, which is discouraged downtown; and they wanted to eliminate resident-serving businesses on a street that is designated for them.”

Architect John Hill submitted the applications on behalf of Jack’s Surf & Sport for two variances, one to reduce required parking and one to convert a second story apartment to retail space, and for the conditional use permit.

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Hill’s applications stated that the project is compatible with the uses permitted in the zone and the parking impact would be the same as for existing retail uses.

Further, Hill said the project would help maintain the existing historical character of the two buildings involved, one that formerly housed Big Dog, a men’s wear shop, and the other still occupied by a long-time tenant, City Cleaners.

“The project is just not consistent with the Downtown Specific Plan,” said Principal Planner Carolyn Martin, who prepared the staff report and recommendation to deny the application.

For one thing: the project as proposed would exacerbate the existing on-site parking shortage — always an issue in Laguna.

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Hill also requested a variance to convert the second floor of one of the buildings from residential to retail use, which he said would better serve the needs and uses of the location. The building is near two nightclubs and is not American Disabilities Act compliant, according to the applicant.

A city’s housing policy discourages removal and/or replacement of residential uses with non-residential uses throughout the city. Approval would require replacement of the rental unit or payment of an in-lieu fee, which the applicant agreed to pay.

However, Martin calculated that the estimated $265,000 fee would not be sufficient to cover the land and improvement costs for a 1,660-square-foot residence in Laguna.

Other negatives cited in the staff report included the adverse cumulative effect locally and regionally of another surf shop and the mass marketing approach of Jack Surf & Sport in its four existing locations in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Corona del Mar and Dana Point and in Internet sales.

The city does not ban chains, but does oppose what is termed “formula-based” businesses that are similar to one another, regardless of location.

Martin opined, and the commission agreed, that the proposed standardized merchandise, services and décor of the proposed project would have an adverse effect on the diversity sought in the business district.

The applicant contended that the Jack’s stores are distinguishable by the differences in size and shape and the sale of surf board blanks and the sale of related art by local artists.

Proposed art sales would have required evaluation for consistency with the downtown plan, which directs art sales to the visitor-serving commercial district, rather than on resident-serving Ocean Avenue.

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Moreover, the project would have added a fourth shop to surf sports and clothing stores that already operate downtown: Hobie’s and Quicksilver Boardriders Club on Forest Avenue, and Toes on the Nose on South Coast Highway, all within two blocks of the proposed project.

More than 15 opponents, including Mark Christie, owner of Hobie’s Sport shops, opposed the application.

Councilman Kelly Boyd, testifying as an individual, opposed the project to protect the cleaners, just a couple of doors down from the Marine Room Tavern he owns. Boyd said he has been a customer of the cleaner for 20 years.

The applicant has until July 11 to appeal the denial. Hill and Jack’s Surf & Sport owner had not retuned messages by press time.


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