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Surf shop asks City Council to re-think denial

The council will be asked Tuesday to decide if another surf and sport shop should be allowed in downtown Laguna Beach, or if the area already has enough of that type of retailer.

Planning commissioners certainly thought so when they unanimously voted June 27 to deny Jack’s Surf and Sport Shop a conditional use permit to open a store on Ocean Avenue and a requested reduction in parking. City staff also recommended a denial of the permit and the request for a parking variance for the proposed project.

“At the June 27 hearing, several concerns were raised by the commission and local business owners in regards to the proposed application,” said architect John Hill, representative of the store owner, in a statement released Wednesday.

“Jack’s took to heart the comments and concerns raised and has appealed the denial with the intention of working with the City Council to find a mutually acceptable resolution to the concerns raised.”

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The original application filed by Hill proposed to renovate the building at 222 Ocean Ave., formerly occupied by Big Dogs, and convert the upstairs residential unit at 216 Ocean Ave. to retail use. The application also included adding 224 and 226 Ocean Ave., presently occupied by businesses, to the Jack’s project and asked for a reduction in parking requirements

“It was one of the most astonishing applications I have seen since I was appointed to the commission,” Anne Johnson said at the June 27 hearing. “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.”

Hill said Jack’s had taken to heart the comments and concerns raised at the hearing and wants to work with the council to find a mutually beneficial resolution to those concerns.

“The purpose to the appeal is not to fight with the city but rather to work with the city to create a use that is best suited to the residents of Laguna Beach,” Hill said.

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“Jack’s is also hoping to clarify a few details with regards to our application, which we feel was mis-communicated in the Planning Commission hearing.”

Four other locations

The staff recommendation against approval of the proposed project cited the adverse cumulative effect locally and regionally of another surf shop in the downtown and the mass marketing approach of Jack’s 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.

City Senior Planner Carolyn Martin, who wrote the staff report and recommendation, opined — and the commission agreed — that the standardized merchandise, services and décor of the proposed project would have an adverse effect on the diversity sought in the business district.

Martin also cited the shortage of parking in the area and incompatibility with a city housing policy which discourages the removal or replacement of residential units with nonresidential units.

“The project is just not consistent with the Downtown Specific Plan,” Martin said.

In the appeal filed on July 13, Hill listed six concerns raised at the hearing and rebutted them.

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Residence unoccupied

He said the residential unit at 216 Ocean Ave., which Jack’s wants to convert to retail space, is not functional due to its proximity to two noisy nightclubs and to the difficulties in making it compliant with American Disabilities Act.

“This particular residence has not been occupied in nearly 10 years, which raises the question of its function and viability,” Hill said. “Its vacancy may be testimony to its inappropriate use.”

Jack’s has offered to pay into the housing in-lieu fund, which is used to replace lost housing stock.

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.

Resident-serving business loss

The loss of a long-established dry cleaners and clothing store on Ocean Avenue, which is zoned for resident-serving businesses, also was a stumbling block.

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

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However, Hill said in his appeal Jack’s was willing to work with the city on mitigation for the two threatened businesses.

As far as the over-saturation of surf shops, Hill said 40% of Jack’s merchandise and products are not available at existing retailers in the downtown area.

Furthermore, Hill questioned whether another surf shop added to the existing three is saturation when compared to the 16 food establishments and 14 clothing stores in the same area.

Hobie’s and Quicksilver Boardriders Club on Forest Avenue, and Toes on the Nose on South Coast Highway are all within two blocks of the proposed project.

And despite already having four stores in Orange County, Jack’s is not formula-based, Hill said

“We are concerned that the impression and business practices of Jack’s Surf and Sport are being distorted and misrepresented,” Hill said.

Hill also maintained parking was not a problem when Big Dogs occupied the site but Jack’s is willing to reconsider its parking proposal.

Jack’s proposal was opposed by more than 15 opponents at the Planning Commission hearing and the staff has recommended the council deny the appeal.


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