384-apartment mixed-use project near JWA is rejected by Newport council

A developer’s plan to build 384 apartments and 5,677 square feet of restaurant space near John Wayne Airport was sent back to the drawing board by the Newport Beach City Council on Tuesday night.

The city Planning Commission voted in June to reject The Residences at Newport Place, citing insufficient public access to a proposed half-acre park, potential parking issues and an inadequate retail component.

The developer, Irvine-based Newport Place Residential LLC, appealed the decision to the City Council on Tuesday.

City staff had recommended that the council send the proposal back to the Planning Commission for further consideration, but the council instead voted unanimously to reject the project.

“This is, in my opinion, a terrible project,” Councilman Ed Selich said. “This project is too dense for the surrounding area. It sits by itself, and it’s just too massive, too bulky.”

The developer can submit a revised project within a year, according to city staff.

Richard Zeilenga, an attorney representing Newport Place Residential, said he plans to approach his client to determine its next move, which he indicated could range from submitting a new proposal to filing a lawsuit.

“We’re very surprised the City Council went in that direction, given that staff’s suggestion was to go back to the Planning Commission,” Zeilenga said.

He said the denial is more about the lack of a development agreement, which would have required the developer to pay $12 million in fees to the city, than the contents of the project. A city staff report had indicated a development agreement was not necessary for the project.

“They want to pretend it’s not, but it’s ‘Pay the money or you don’t get to play,’” Zeilenga said.

The Newport Place project was proposed to replace the 5.7-acre MacArthur Square commercial center, which was built in 1974 on the corner of Dove Street and Scott Drive, just west of MacArthur Boulevard. The center includes retail stores, professional and medical offices, a dance studio and several restaurants, including Arnie’s Manhattan Deli, which has been there for more than a decade.

Plans for The Residences at Newport Place show four four-story buildings with a restaurant and residential uses on the first floor and more residences above.

Newport Place Residential had proposed that the apartments include 54 studio units averaging about 616 square feet, 173 one-bedroom units averaging 804 square feet, 136 two-bedroom units averaging about 1,178 square feet and 21 three-bedroom units averaging 1,422 square feet.

Of the 384 apartments, 86 would be priced below market rates for lower-income residents but would have the same amenities as market-rate units, according to the plans. Rent prices had not been announced.

The development also would include a swimming pool, two spas, private cabanas, a community clubhouse, a business center, a recreation and fitness center, courtyards, two children’s play areas, barbecue areas and a rooftop gathering space called a “sky deck.”

A street-level parking area and two subterranean parking levels would total 715 spaces. The proposed number of parking spots is in line with state standards, city staff said, but planning commissioners raised concerns about overflow parking by residents and guests spilling onto adjacent streets.

Commissioners also took issue with the notion that the planned 59-foot-wide, half-acre linear open space along the southern part of the property would be fenced, with public access available only during daylight hours. Plans show the area with a pedestrian walkway between Dove Street and Martingale Way.

“I think the park is a joke,” Selich said. “It’s nothing more than a setback area between the two buildings.”

City land-use policies require that the project dedicate a half-acre as a public park, but Newport Place Residential had asked that the requirement be waived so it could maintain the project’s requested density. The developer would pay a $1.25-million fee instead of dedicating the half-acre park.