Mariner's Mile could redevelop

Mariner's Mile could be the next hot spot to buy a condo.

If the city of Newport Beach's proposed zoning ordinance is passed, then the long-troubled commercial corridor on West Coast Highway could have condominiums and apartments above ground-floor shops and restaurants.

City officials hope the move will attract investment to the area and inject life into some older office and retail buildings that have remained vacant for years.

"There's a lot of commercial property there, but not enough demand," said David Lepo, the city's planning director.

"This is an attempt to promote development on some of the properties, to spruce up the area."

It may be working. One of the first new residential projects proposed for that row is at the site of Billy's at the Beach, a Hawaiian-themed restaurant. Developer and former City Councilman Tod Ridgeway announced earlier this year that he intends to tear down the existing building and replace it with a "mixed-use" project with six condos, a space for Billy's and a parking garage.

Those sorts of waterfront mixed-use projects must have at least 50% of their buildings devoted to non-residential uses, such as restaurants, retail or office space, according to the proposed zoning ordinance.

On the inland side, developers would not be able to build condos directly on Coast Highway, but could have residential buildings on the land that's closer to the abutting hill — the area currently occupied by many parking lots.

To protect residents' views from the Cliff Drive bluff, the new buildings on either side of Coast Highway would be limited to a height of 31 feet.

"It would be a continuation of what's up on the hill," said Scott Hook, a vice president of the Newport Beach branch of the real estate firm Marcus & Millichap.

He could envision replacing some of the older buildings with residential units.

"The whole area has been tired for years," he said.

Hook represented a local developer who purchased some of the properties on the east end of Mariner's Mile, near Dover Drive. That area would not be affected by the new zoning ordinance, which stretches from Newport Boulevard to the west side of the Boy Scout Sea Base.

Local businessman Russell Fluter purchased those properties to the west of Dover Drive in March and spent months repairing broken windows and rehabilitating their interiors. He is now renting six buildings; one has a large parking lot for boat or car sales and the others have retail and office space.

The new zoning ordinance still calls for some marine-related commercial uses along Coast Highway; the existing one limits property owners to that or retail stores.

"The question really is: 'Is office better or is residential better?'" said Fluter. "Any residential on the waterfront will lease or sell if the price is right."

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