Museum House condo tower gets Newport council approval

Before a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall on Tuesday night, the Newport Beach City Council approved a 25-story luxury condominium development in Newport Center intended to replace the Orange County Museum of Art.

After a roughly three-hour hearing with dozens of public comments for and against the 100-unit Museum House, the council approved the development on a 6-1 vote, with Councilman Tony Petros dissenting.

Proponents of the project, wearing stickers reading “Museum House supporter,” called it a “world class” jewel and a picturesque addition to a thriving area of the city.

Representatives of the developer, Related California LLC, distributed the stickers outside the council chamber and staffed a table containing pamphlets and renderings of the project, which is anticipated to generate $21.7 million to the city and schools through various fees paid by Related California.

Critics, who gathered more than 1,500 signatures against the development, expressed worry and fear about the project’s possible traffic effects. They argued that the dense development would transform Newport into something akin to Los Angeles and set a precedent for more high-rise residences.

Museum House is planned to contain 54 two-bedroom units and 46 three-bedroom units. The condos, ranging from 1,800 to 6,000 square feet, are proposed to sell for $2 million to $4 million.

The project also would contain a terrace, pool, pet spa, wine cellar and fitness area, among other amenities.

Bill Witte, chairman and chief executive of Related California, said Museum House wouldn’t block ocean views or present any “significant impacts” to existing traffic patterns.

Ruth Kobayashi of Harbor Cove said she supported the project and complimented Related California’s effort to work with the community.

“They are people of high standards and integrity” who will create a “good-neighbor environment,” she said.

Kacey Taormina, a real estate agent with Surterre Properties, said Museum House would provide high-rise luxury housing that’s greatly needed in Newport Beach.

“This product provides a solution for a lot of our clients who live in larger homes … and they’re looking to downsize,” she said.

Beacon Bay resident Drew Lawler argued that Museum House takes Newport “away from our roots.”

“No to 10 stories, no to five stories,” he said. “This project does not belong in Newport Beach.”

Big Canyon resident Lynn Swain said “to say that there’s no traffic problem is absurd.”

“I didn’t move to Newport Beach to have it be Century City,” she added. “We’re a beach community, and we want to stay the way we are.”

The Orange County Museum of Art, which has been on the 2-acre site at 850 San Clemente Drive since 1978, plans to move to a new building in Costa Mesa, near the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

Tuesday’s meeting was preceded by behind-the-scenes tension between area activists and Related California.

OCMA Urban Housing LLC, an Irvine-based division of Related California that is dedicated to the Museum House project, published a full-page ad in Sunday’s Daily Pilot that professed widespread support for Museum House, including from the Newport Beach Planning Commission — which unanimously approved it in October — firefighters, police officers and nearly 300 residents.

Placed prominently among the residents’ names was activist Susan Skinner, whom the ad quoted as calling Museum House “a beautiful project ... .”

In an interview Monday, Skinner said the ad used her words out of context and without her knowledge.

During a Speak Up Newport forum in August, Skinner did call the project “beautiful” but also said that adding it to Newport Center would make the city more urbanized with high-rises, like Los Angeles.

Skinner is associated with two activist groups — Still Protecting Our Newport and Line in the Sand — that have opposed Museum House.

“It’s pretty desperate to take one of the high-profile opponents of this project and stick them in the middle of an ad,” Skinner said. “It is unethical. It is unfair. It impugns my reputation and it confuses people by this whole project.”

The Daily Pilot’s editorial staff does not review or approve ads before their publication.

Related California did not respond to a request for comment about the ad.

The developer did, however, point to a cease-and-desist letter it sent Monday to Citizens Against High Rise Urban Towers, a Santa Ana-based group that has been distributing mailers, online petitions and television ads opposing Museum House.

The letter alleges the group has “engaged in a pattern of publicizing inaccurate and deceptive information” about Museum House.

The group claims that Museum House would violate Federal Aviation Administration and Newport Beach height restrictions.

According to the developer’s letter, the FAA in October issued determinations that Museum House poses no hazards. The letter added that Newport Beach has a height limit of 300 feet and that Museum House would be 295 feet.

Twitter: @BradleyZint