Canal envisioned for City Hall site

If some dreamers have their way, kayaks and Duffy electric boats could be floating along a canal at the current site of Newport Beach City Hall.

A waterway would stretch from the Lido Village waterfront, past new mid-rise condo buildings, and eventually under Newport Boulevard.

That is one of the more ambitious ideas produced by a months-long planning process the city and nearby property owners will review Tuesday. After heavily criticizing a proposal in November, City Council members will discuss the re-use of the 4-acre City Hall site and the adjoining land, an area planners have dubbed Lido Village.

"I'm very pleased with how it looks," Mayor Mike Henn said of the plans. He represents District 1, which includes the total 17-acre site.

One of the biggest prior concerns was that the City Hall site would become a parking repository for the other land owners. Plans released Friday show a senior housing development; public spaces like a plaza, amphitheater, greenbelt and the canal; and a "community services center."

The community services center could have a variety of public facilities, ranging from public meeting rooms to exercise facilities and a police sub-station. Architects will ask the City Council to give directions for the final "vision" plan at Tuesday's study session.

"It's such a unique opportunity," said Councilwoman Nancy Gardner, who likes the revised plans. "They really have made it such a public place, so friendly."

To accommodate the canal and to shift parking onto private parcels, the city may have to negotiate with landowners. Some incentives could be added density — more condos or apartments on a parcel than is currently allowed — or relaxed height limits, said Tim Collins, a real estate development consultant hired to manage the project.

Buildings are capped at 35 feet, but some of the plans call for higher, four- or five-story buildings.

The area includes Lido Marina Village, the Via Lido Plaza retail center with the Pavilions market, and surrounding buildings. In total, 14 different parties own land there.

The multitude of owners presents challenges, and the most pressing one is timing. The Fritz Duda Co., which owns Via Lido Plaza with other partners, will be losing its anchor tenant soon. Pavilions plans to move to the Landing, a shopping center under renovation less than a block away.

So Duda will likely want to renovate the shopping center long before the city is ready to build. Planners are recommending a "land exchange" between Duda and the city, so they could develop the parcels more efficiently. In the end, the city would still have about four acres, but in a more rectangular shape.

"[The current plan] allows for phased, integrated planning," Collins said. "It can all be done in an orderly fashion."

Not everyone is pleased with the concepts. Councilwoman Leslie Daigle, who hadn't seen the revised plans yet, said she wanted to maximize city revenue at the site.

"A lock system for the canal could be expensive," she quipped. "We need to be realistic about our finances and look at the City Hall site as a revenue generator."

But if the plans are exciting enough, they may draw people to the area and generate tax revenue, said Gardner, but "It's not quite like having the rent check coming in."

Diners and shoppers could flock to a lively Lido Marina Village — not a revolutionary idea, but one that hasn't been realized for years.

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