Village Entrance designs displayed, critiqued

The Village Entrance's initial design includes trees, parkland and stone walkways, but no shooting range.

Still, concerned residents took target practice at a proposed four-level parking garage that is included with the proposed development near the intersection of Forest Avenue and Laguna Canyon Road during Tuesday's Laguna Beach City Council meeting.

Nearly 50 speakers addressed council members on the proposed Village Entrance, a $42.3 million project 18 years in the making that includes a pedestrian park. Audience members gave their opinions after watching three men, including Alan Pullman, founder of architectural firm Studio One Eleven, unveilpreliminary design renderings.

Most residents who spoke oppose the structure, though supporters also had their say.

More public input is on the way after the council approved a list of recommendations from Councilman Bob Whalen that included scheduling a public workshop that all council members would attend to discuss residents' project ideas and concerns.

The council also approved, by a 4 to 1 vote, the city's recommendation to spend $85,000 to test the soil in the area for contaminants. It also agreed to use $15,000 from the sewer fund to pay an engineering company to study odors emanating from the site currently occupied by Forest Avenue and Lumberyard parking lots that includes a sewer lift station.

Whalen set the meeting's tone with a list of principles to abide by throughout the process.

"We have a responsibility to listen to the public. ... The project benefits both residents and businesses, and [we have] a responsibility as a council to move ahead with a Village Entrance project.

"The easy thing would be to put the issue on the back burner. Right now that area is the Village Arm Pit. There is nothing world class about the Village Entrance. It is devoid of landscaping and public art."

Councilwoman Toni Iseman dissented because she would like crews to place stakes in the ground before any public workshops to let community members know where the parking structure would go.

"The graphics were beautiful," Iseman said Wednesday of the renderings. "It's hard to imagine how big a 324-foot-long [parking] structure that is 36 feet high is; the only way is to stake it. Before we spend any more money, why not let the community know [where the project would be]?"

Iseman also disagreed with spending more money to study odors that are clearly in the air, she said.

"Don't ask how to get it fixed, get it fixed," Iseman said.

Engineers from Laguna Beach-based Geofirm tested the soil and water and found no "violations of state or federal soil standards requiring mitigation," a city staff report said.

The parking structure would hold 528 spaces with entry from Laguna Canyon Road, Forest Avenue and from a city lot, according to design renderings. One level would be underground.

The city has $13.3 million available for the project and would need to borrow up to $29 million, according to the staff report. No borrowing would occur without a public hearing and council vote, the city said.

The project would incorporate undulating terrain, indigenous trees, walking and bicycling, Pullman told the audience.

Landscape architect Bob Borthwick elaborated on the proposed park, a setting where artists could exhibit their work and farmers could set up their stands during the Saturday's farmers' market, which will be included in project designs. Borthwick dedicated a few slides to illustrate where vendors could set up.

"The inspiration is to take the canyon into town," Borthwick said, noting that groundcover could include turf, decomposed granite or paved cobblestone.

Borthwick suggested planting succulents and other low-height California native species to preserve open views into the park for security, he said.

A majority of trees will be California natives, including 70% sycamores, and existing eucalyptus trees would be preserved, Borthwick said.

Not everyone took to the proposed design.

"It's called a beautification project, but I don't see it," resident Audrey Prosser said. "It's a wall of concrete. There's a reason we've had 45 workshops [on the Village Entrance]: it's a bad project. I urge the council not to spend one more penny on a project a majority of people in town don't want."

Chris Prelitz, president of Transition Laguna a grass-roots organization that installs edible gardens and advocates for water and energy conservation, recommended breaking the project into three components.

"We all love Laguna Beach; it's a matter of what's the best choice for Laguna Beach," Prelitz said. "There are three projects: beautification, circulation and parking. Most of the city is not in favor of the [parking structure]. It doesn't address circulation. I'd like to see us find spaces we need to move cars off Forest Avenue.

"What about building out the Act V [parking lot in Laguna Canyon] first and then [address] beautification? What would that cost?"

Council members have considered peripheral parking, but the city has to abide by Coastal Commission policies, Mayor Kelly Boyd said.

"We've talked about peripheral parking for seven years," Boyd said. "At least we own the property we're speaking about now. To get peripheral parking you either have to buy property or work out an agreement with the property owner."

The city would need to find replacement parking spaces to make up for any spots lost to make room for a park, City Manager John Pietig said.

"The Coastal Commission expects you to replace [the parking spots]," Pietig said. "In general, they want them in the nearby area, but because we have a successful trolley system, there may be some flexibility."

The council also approved spending $5,000 for a representative from Studio One Eleven to participate in upcoming public meetings; $5,000 for a representative from RBF Consulting to facilitate a council workshop in January; and earmarked $20,000 from the Village Entrance project budget as contingency, according to City Clerk Lisette Chel-Walker.

Whalen offered one other recommendation.

"We have to be willing to listen, and consider viewpoints other than our own," he said. "I'm optimistic as a community we will arrive at a consensus."

Design renderings and other Village Entrance-related information can seen on the city's website at Click on the Village Entrance tab on the left part of the screen.

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