Frog House likely OK, others maybe not

NEWPORT BEACH — It looks like the legendary Frog House surf shop is going to survive the city's new zoning enforcement changes, but without the same outpouring of public support it received, some nearby businesses may not be able to stay in their residentially zoned areas.

A 22-year-old Balboa Peninsula tattoo parlor and a dentist who has been operating by Newport Harbor High School for almost 30 years are two examples of businesses that will also have to rely on the city to approve their commercial use.

Due to an unintended consequence of a 2008 ordinance that restricted rehab homes, the city is now forced to remove other types of businesses from residentially zoned districts. Some of these shops have been operating for decades. Now city officials, property owners and neighbors have to ask if businesses fit in their neighborhoods and if they should make some special accommodations.

"I don't think I'll have hordes of people demonstrating for me," said Arnold Frankenberger, whose dental office is attached to his home across Irvine Avenue from Newport Harbor High. "I'm trusting in the city to do something about it."

At the Oct. 12 City Council meeting, Councilman Steve Rosansky said the city is working with the Frog House to rezone its property. Dozens of supporters had called Rosansky and other city officials on the Frog House's behalf, and more than 10,000 supporters joined the shop's Facebook page.

Rosansky said that "T.K." Brimer, the owner of the shop and the property, needs to apply for a zoning change and an amendment to the general plan.

"Once he does that, and assuming it's approved, he will be able to continue operating in that location," Rosansky said at the meeting. In the meantime, Brimer and other property owners have filed requests with the city to delay enforcement of the zoning rules.

Brimer said that the city should treat the other businesses in his situation equally, regardless if they're selling surfboards, fixing teeth or injecting ink.

"I think they should all be treated fairly," he said. "We're all trying to make a living in this world, and we all chose different paths to do this."

Frankenberger has also applied for an extension to continue operating as a business, and is considering applying for the more permanent fix. But after 30 years of pulling patients' teeth, Frankenberger said he would consider retiring if the process doesn't work out.

He bought the property from his father-in-law, a physician who had been seeing patients there since 1945, the year the building was made for that purpose, Frankenberger said. Small signs hang in front of the two-story white building, but otherwise it looks like a home.

"Whatever the city decides, I'll go along with," he said.

Ardee Allen isn't as agreeable on the issue. She has owned and operated Skin Works, a tattoo parlor on Balboa Boulevard near the Balboa Island Ferry, for 22 years. Her landlord also filed for an extension, but Allen doubts she'll receive the same support as the Frog House.

"I know that there's a percentage of people who never wanted my type of business in their town," she said.

Allen said she is mistrustful of the city government because she believes officials want to redevelop the Balboa Village area and push out shops that don't fit a certain image.

"Since I'm not very knowledgeable about particular political processes, it's very confusing," Allen said. "I'm lost. I'm completely lost."

Her landlord, Lucinda Boswell, feels much the same. Boswell's grandmother built the two-story building at 313 E. Balboa Blvd. in 1954. A mixed-use building, it has two commercial spaces under flats. On one side is a large AT&T building and on the other are apartments. According to the city's zoning code, it's in a residential area.

"What harm can we possibly be doing?" Boswell said. "It is very strange."

If Boswell, Frankenberger or the other three property owners caught in the city's zoning enforcement want to remain commercial buildings, they first have to overcome the city process, which can cost thousands of dollars and two to three months of city approvals. The central question will be whether commercial uses are appropriate in each location.

During public hearings, neighbors will have a chance to comment.

One of the groups commenting may be the Balboa Village Business Improvement District, which includes Skin Works. The district president and owner of Balboa Boat Rentals, Ralph Rodheim, said his personal preference is for the village area to look like Newport, R.I., with charming nautical-themed shops.

But Rodheim said the district had not met to discuss Boswell's property, or a spa in the village that is similarly affected.

"We would have to evaluate the pros and cons and have to make a determination," Rodheim said. "I do believe zoning is there for a reason."

Even if the city approves the changes, the property owners within the coastal zone would have an additional hurdle: The city would have to amend its coastal plan with the California Coastal Commission, a process that could take anywhere from six months to more than a year, according to Acting Planning Director Jim Campbell. But he is optimistic that the process would have a positive outcome.

"Typically the Coastal Commission is in favor of commercial ventures in the coastal zone, especially when it serves visitors," Campbell said.

The key local decision rests with the City Council. Councilman Mike Henn, who represents the Balboa Peninsula, said the central question is whether a commercial operation fits into the neighborhood, and the type of business is mostly irrelevant.

"It doesn't resolve itself to a popularity contest," Henn said.

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