Council, residents discuss uses for City Hall site

Editor's note: This version includes the final paragraph missing from an earlier version.

NEWPORT BEACH — The City Hall site will likely become some combination of housing, a community center, and public plaza once it's vacated for the new Civic Center across town.

That was the consensus during Tuesday afternoon's City Council study session, when West Newport residents and council members gave their opinions on the four-acre parcel.

Much of the discussion concerned what type of housing would be best — whether it would be for seniors or younger people, "affordable" or luxurious. Also, council members debated the need for a large community center and what it might contain.

"Whatever housing is there needs to be active," said Councilman Rush Hill. "It needs to be for individuals who are out and about."

Architects and planners hired by the city presented three scenarios with about 100 apartments or condominiums: one with senior housing; another with "workforce housing," or moderately priced apartments; and a third with housing and ground-floor retail stores.

All three scenarios included a plaza with a canal and "community service center" that could be home to a historical information center, a community meeting space, or some other public use.

Running under the discussion was the question of revenue: How much money should the city seek to gain from the site?

Depending on what type of housing is built, the city could lease the land for up to $800,000 per year from a developer, according to economist Richard Gollis from the Concord Group. He also presented estimates of the land value — up to $40 million if the city were to sell it with entitlements for senior housing, and up to $60 million if a developer could build upscale condominiums there.

"I would look to see how we can maximize the revenue aspect," said Councilman Keith Curry, who said he supported high-end housing.

It was unclear, though, if the city was somehow constrained in what type of apartments or condos it could approve. Most of the planners' proposals had an "affordable" element. Senior housing, for example, fulfills some of the city's affordable housing requirements under state law.

"Affordable senior housing simply does not fit," said one Lido Isle resident, who instead wanted "luxury condominium communities, luxury apartments" to make Lido Village a "vibrant destination."

Only one councilman, Steve Rosansky, appeared to be more interested in a large community center than housing.

"I hope we look past our economic troubles," Rosansky said. "My focus is more of a community aspect, a greater civic presence."

But Newport is already planning a community center at the Marina Park Development, less than a mile down the Balboa Peninsula, and some of the other council members were concerned that it would be a wasted plan.

For the civic plaza, planners downplayed their proposed "canal" and instead called it "a glorified fountain," about 24 feet wide. It would circulate bay water, they said, through the city's land and under Newport Boulevard to the Finley tract canals, which are polluted.

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