Village Entrance plans to be discussed

Laguna Beach Mayor Pro Tem Elizabeth Pearson and Councilwoman Toni Iseman are moving the once-languishing Village Entrance project forward.

"It's a real opportunity to address what we need in town to keep our business community vibrant and easier for the public to shop and enjoy our town," Iseman said.

Iseman and Pearson, who formed a subcommittee two years ago for the Village Entrance, will present their ideas at 5 p.m. March 26 in Council Chambers, 505 Forest Ave.

The two have different versions of what the project should entail, according to Iseman.

"I've wanted people who enter Laguna to not run into something as ugly as the current entrance to town," Iseman said of the area where Laguna Canyon Road crosses into the village.

Past plans have called for a pedestrian-oriented park that links the Sawdust Art Festival area to downtown Laguna Beach and Main Beach, according to the revised draft Environmental Impact Report.

The pedestrian park could incorporate public art, benches and vegetation to block potential traffic noise from Laguna Canyon Road, Iseman said.

Pearson's concerns center on parking, traffic and circulation. She cited concern over the Irvine Co.'s ongoing housing developments north of Laguna Canyon in a Village Entrance update she emailed to the Coastline Pilot.

She said residents will have access to Laguna Canyon Road from these communities.

The first residents moved into the 1,750-apartment Los Olivos Apartment Village community, near Irvine Center Drive and the 405 Freeway, earlier this month, according to the Irvine Co. website.

Laguna Altura includes 596 homes, with 160 still to be built, Mike Lyster, Irvine Co. spokesman, wrote in an email.

The Hidden Canyon development, next to Shady Canyon in Irvine, has 258 homes planned to be built in the next three years.

"No parking studies for the city of Laguna Beach have taken into account external impacts, including these new homes," Pearson said in the summary. "Where will these folks go to the beach? Laguna, of course."

Parking as close to the downtown and entertainment venues is critical to ensure year-round usage of a parking garage, Pearson said in a separate email to the Coastline Pilot.

"Even a couple of blocks further out the canyon would not be appealing to year-round visitors; we know folks won't walk too far to take advantage of restaurants, stores, galleries and entertainment," Pearson said.

Iseman also has parking-related questions.

"How much money will [the city] spend?" Iseman said. "How much money would a parking structure cost; how many parking places would it have and what is the right location?"

The communities reflect a collaborative process among the Irvine Co., the city of Laguna Beach and the Laguna Canyon Foundation, Lyster said.

Part of the development process was to reduce the size of the planned communities to enhance open space and buffer developed areas from open space in the canyon, he said.

In 2008 the city hired a firm to estimate the project's total cost, Community Development Director John Montgomery said. The consultant estimated $38.87 million, Montgomery said. The estimated range now is from $38 to $55 million, depending on size and scope, he said.


Village Entrance History

The City Council and community first envisioned an attractive gateway into Laguna Beach more than 30 years ago, and it has been an ongoing issue since. Eighteen years ago, a Village Entrance Task Force formed to propose a report for the City Council on what the project should include and it took six years from 1985 for the council to adopt the report and make recommendations for the project's design.

The Village Entrance site is located on the east side of Forest Avenue where it intersects with Laguna Canyon Road. The area includes the Lumberyard and Forest Avenue parking lots, and city employees' parking lot and maintenance area.

Proposed plans call for an urban and linear pedestrian park, and replacing and increasing displaced parking with a possible parking structure.

The Planning Commission approved the revised EIR in June 2011.

The revised EIR says the largest possible public parking structure would stand 36 feet (five stories) and have a maximum 667 spaces. The structure would house some city offices, a meeting room, public restrooms, city employee restrooms, storage rooms and city vehicle parking. The structure would be built around an existing sewer lift station, the EIR says.

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