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Commission approves House of Design plan

Transformation of a South Laguna mansion into the 2012 Philharmonic House of Design will begin this month, culminating in a monthlong showcase this spring for top designers that will raise thousands for youth music education.

The Planning Commission on Wednesday approved the application for a permit for the use of the 11,333 square-foot home at 31401 Mar Vista for the annual Philharmonic Society of Orange County’s major fundraiser, expected to bring in about $250,000. Opponents have two weeks to appeal the approval, which will be considered.

“I love the society’s programs for children, but this is a total misfit for our community,” said South Laguna resident Mary Ives. “Other locations [for the fundraiser] are different from South Laguna. They have broad streets. They have street lamps. We don’t. South Laguna is a walking community, and this would be a real imposition on us.”

South Laguna Civic Assn. President Bill Rihn said his board opposes the project, and he hadn’t met anyone in South Laguna who wants the Mar Vista home used for the fundraiser.


Apparently, he hadn’t met Cindy Prewitt.

“I am a resident of South Laguna,” Prewitt said. “I walk in South Laguna, I am a former member of the South Laguna Civic Assn., and I am here to speak in favor of this project.”

Prewitt is the founder of Laguna Beach Live! which partners with the society for the annual Laguna Beach Music Festival. She said the society fundraiser benefits children and will benefit businesses in the city.

The society will work with the city’s Visitors Bureau to package hotel stays and House of Design tours. The tours will show off the interior and exterior design work done by selected designers from Orange and Los Angeles counties, according to the Philharmonic’s website. A local restaurant will cater the event.


Had the commission denied the application, or if the council does on appeal, the fundraiser would have to be canceled, said Sabra Bordas, chairwoman of the society’s board.

“It is a yearlong process to find a site that will meet our needs,” Bordas said. “After months of searching this year, we went to the owner of the Mar Vista property and asked him to allow us to use it for our event.”

Securing the owner’s permission and working on gaining city approval took two months, leaving no time to find another site. Bordas said if the fundraiser had to be canceled, programs would not be funded.

Staff recommended approval of the proposal, 4 to 0, with Commission Chairman Rob Zur Schmiede absent.

The staff report concluded that the preparation of the home for the fundraiser, the monthlong tours and related activities would not have a detrimental effect on nearby residential properties.

Outdoor sound will be controlled to avoid disturbing the neighbors. Traffic will be minimized with access only by tour buses. No pedestrians or private cars will be allowed on the property. Public parking will be provided in Dana Point, a 10-minute ride to the Mar Vista home.

Staff opined that the project is compatible with the intent and criteria for temporary use permits, which include desirable activities that are consistent with the health safety and general welfare of people residing or working in Laguna.

“Even though the neighbors are impacted — this will benefit the larger Laguna Beach community and all of Orange County,” said Commissioner Anne Johnson.


The report compared the proposal to the one-day Charm House Tour, which opponents pooh-poohed.

Commissioner Linda Dietrich said the better comparison would be with the art festivals in the summer near her home.

“I understand neighbors’ concerns, but the TUP calls for a benefit to the community, not a benefit for the neighborhood,” said Commissioner Norm Grossman. “We will try to make as many conditions as possible to minimize the impacts.”

At his request, residents along Third Avenue, the route to be taken by the tour buses, will be notified by mail two weeks before the event begins April 24. The letter will include the name and telephone number of a live troubleshooter.

This will be the first Philharmonic House of Design in Laguna. Proceeds benefit programs that annually reach more than 150,000 students in grades K-12.

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