CORONA DEL MAR — After the Coastal Commission denied approval of the AERIE project last spring, developer Richard Julian downsized plans and is going back before the agency on Wednesday, with a staff report recommending partial approval of the luxury condominiums to be built on the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Carnation Avenue.
But the project, some say, is still too big and will cause too much damage to the coastal bluff, according to letters sent to the Coastal Commission. Others say the plans are incomplete and use faulty measurements, and that the construction noise and traffic will bother neighbors and keep families from safely walking to the beach.
The commission's staff report includes copies of the letters, including 16 in support and 18 opposed; one letter in opposition, however, was signed by 24 residents.
The staff report recommends that the Coastal Commission deny approval for replacing an existing two-slip floating dock structure with a seven-slip floating dock and guest side-tie, stating the docks wouldn't conform with the Coastal Act and would have "significant adverse effects on the environment."
Staff is recommending approval of the buildings, which they describe as "demolition of an existing 13,688 square-foot, four-level, 14-unit apartment while retaining an on-grade stairway on the bluff face, demolition of a 2,810 square foot single-family residence and construction of a new 51,177 square foot, seven-unit, 32-feet tall, five-level condominium structure with 18 parking spaces and common amenities including a fitness facility, meeting room, patio, pool and spa; hardscape and landscaping."
In April, Julian presented an eight-unit proposal with an elevator garage, which would have required a cut of 25,240 cubic yards. The Coastal Commission voted 7 to 5 against the plans, which several commissioners said involved too much excavation.
"The applicant has worked with Commission staff to modify the project for Commission review," the report states.
The new plans reduce grading by 55% to 11,460 cubic yards.
To some, however, that's still too much.
"It proposes to cut into the natural landform of the Corona del Mar coastal bluff, forever altering a natural resource that has been in its place for millions of years," wrote Joann Lombardo of Newport Beach.
Other letter writers mentioned a recent slope failure on Carnation Avenue that severed a city sewer line.
"The bluff itself may be stable, but there is clearly a concern about bluff face slippage on the Carnation Bluff," wrote Marilyn Beck, a longtime vocal opponent of the AERIE project.
Beck also expressed concerns that the application was missing elevations showing the north and west portions of the building, and concerns over the project's height, which is based on an average height of the proposed curved roofline. She also said the units, which would average 7,311 square feet, were much larger than the neighborhood range of 2,000 to 5,000 square feet.
Another letter expressed concern about the project being abandoned.
"If the development entity goes bankrupt during the course of construction the Bluff along Carnation Avenue may have an open wound in its face that bleeds mud, dirt, debris and other runoff into one of the cleanest area of Newport Harbor …" Kathleen McIntosh wrote.
Letters of support described the benefits of the planned development, and they said Julian had worked diligently with state and local officials as well as with neighbors to create appropriate plans.
"The Aerie Project will remove a 50-year old eye-sore at the entrance to Newport Harbor and replace it with a jewel fit for our 'Crown of the Sea', and it will do so well within existing zoning and coastal requirements while protecting and preserving the natural visual resources," wrote Keith A. Dawson.
"This particular structure will re-vitalize a blighted property," wrote Tod and Peggie Parrott, who stated that they walked the project site to study it. "Those tired apartment buildings have been an eyesore for much too long."
If You Go
What: California Coastal Commission meeting
When: 8 a.m. Wednesday
Where: 701 Ocean St., Santa Cruz; meeting will be streamed live on the Commission's website at http://www.coastal.ca.gov