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Live-work proposal back before commission

For the third time in less than four months, a sculptor and architect intent on creating a facility for artists in Laguna Canyon will present their project to the Planning Commission and public.

Louis Longi and Horst Noppenberger heard comments about their proposed artist live-work project from the public and planners at two previous meetings. They will present their latest rendition at Wednesday’s commission meeting.


“We made a lot of changes [since the November meeting],” Noppenberger said in a phone message. “We took three units off the top and relocated them to the back of the building to reduce the appearance of mass and scale. We removed all decks with the exception of a couple of outdoor communal work spaces.”

Residents and commissioners were concerned about the project’s size and look, claiming the proposed facility is too big for that area of Laguna Canyon.


Relocating the three units brings to four the number that Longi and Noppenberger propose moving to break up the visual continuity of the west side, a key to reducing the appearance of mass and scale, Noppenberger wrote in a Dec. 12 letter to planning commissioners and city staff.

The proposed facility is planned for 20412 and 20432 Laguna Canyon Road, near Canyon Animal Hospital, Laguna Koi Ponds and the Sun Valley residential neighborhood.

The proposal calls for two buildings — one 11,000 square feet of livable area and the other 7,000 — contained on a 36,750-square-foot lot, Longi wrote in an email. Individual units would range from 500 to 1,600 square feet.

An exterior work space connects both structures, according to Noppenberger’s letter.


The public has raised additional questions about the facility’s ability to handle floodwaters in the event of a torrential rainstorm and the cost to artists.

Eight of the 30 units would be dedicated to low-income artists, whose average monthly rent would be $916, city planner Carolyn Martin said during the Nov. 13 meeting.

The figure is based on 60% of the 2013 median annual income for a one-person household in Orange County, which is $36,630, Martin wrote in a follow-up email.

The remaining 22 units would be market rate, according to Martin.


The proposed facility sits within a 100-year flood zone and satisfies requirements for such a location, according to the project’s hydrologist.

“The building will be elevated on smooth, minimally obstructive piers,” registered professional engineer Ahmad Tamim Atayee certified in an August 2013 no-rise certificate. “All low floor elevations are above the corresponding base flood elevations.”

A no-rise certificate is a Federal Emergency Management Agency requirement for new development located in a 100-year floodplain, according to Martin.

The majority of the existing vegetation area will be resurfaced with pavement or concrete, allowing for water to flow more smoothly through the area, according to Atayee.

The project’s dimensions meet the requirement for a building to be raised enough above the ground — 31 feet at its top above the base flood elevation, according to a city staff report.

Planning commissioners voted unanimously at their Nov. 13 meeting to delay voting on the project, which Longi has worked on for the last seven years.

Commissioners Anne Johnson, Ken Sadler and Linda Dietrich were generally supportive of the project but didn’t necessarily favor the decks proposed for the building’s sides.

“I would like to get more variance in heights across the length of the building,” Sadler said. “I think city policies are put in place to try to promote artist live-work and low-income housing. We have to figure out a way to move forward.”

But commissioner Norm Grossman, who helped write the Laguna Canyon Annexation Area Specific Plan, agreed with residents’ concerns that the facility would clash with the surrounding environment and doesn’t meet the guidelines of the specific plan.

“I’ve spent more time thinking about this project than any in recent memory,” Grossman said at the November meeting. “We’re under strict guidelines about what we can and cannot do. We all know density is important, but we can’t use that for justification. We’re supposed to look at this as use and design.

“If we’re going to change, we should change the specific plan. I can’t find consistency with the specific plan.”

The project also conflicts with the city’s Land Use Element, a document meant to guide decision makers, the public and planners on public and private use and possible development, Grossman said.

One of the land use policies calls for maintaining the diversity and uniqueness of individual neighborhoods.

“Development standards and design review guidelines shall minimize the scale and bulk of new construction and/or renovation and require development to be compatible with the surrounding residences,” according to the Land Use Element.

The project is expected to cost $6.1 million, with $4.5 million going toward construction and development and $1.6 for the land, said Longi, who credits his partner in the project, local investor and Laguna Beach native Chris Dornin, and Dornin’s wife, Marcella, as being instrumental in bringing the project to this stage.

“It is [Dornin’s] strong understanding of our community and finance that has allowed this project to prosper and maintain our cultural heritage while creating a venue for young artists,” Longi said.

Wednesday’s meeting will begin at 6 p.m., a half-hour earlier than last year’s meetings, in City Council chambers at 505 Forest Ave.