By Horst Noppenberger
Every once in a while, a project comes along which has an opportunity to speak to who we are as a community. The artist live-work project that we’ve designed for local sculptor Louis Longi and the Dornin Investment Group is one of these projects. The Long(i) Live-Work-Create project represents an opportunity for Laguna Beach to enhance its historic and cherished reputation as a community friendly to the arts by providing artists with studio spaces that promote imagination, creativity, prosperity and collaboration. Many of us who have lived here over the years have noticed that artists have left the community because of difficulties finding affordable living and working environments. This project will address these issues and bring artists back into the community.
As you may know, this project is proposed in Laguna Canyon and has been going through the Planning Commission review for over a year. On Jan. 8, we were approved by the Planning Commission. However, the project has been appealed to the City Council and will be on the agenda March 18. While many within the community support this project, there is also an opposition group composed mainly of Laguna Canyon residents in the area of Sun Valley Road. Their concerns are primarily mass, scale, and increased traffic. This opposition group describes this area of the community as “their neighborhood.” They describe our artist live- work project as an “apartment building.” However, we feel that neighborhoods are best shared and that this one in particular, is composed of a wide variety of uses, including, light industrial uses, artist live-work, an animal hospital, auto repair, landscaping and other types of businesses. While we are sensitive to the concerns expressed by the opposition group, we also feel that they need to understand that they have been living next to an essentially undeveloped M1-B (light industrial) property for many years. Since the enactment of the Laguna Canyon Annexation Plan in 1991, several other M1-B properties have been developed in Laguna Canyon.
We’ve been able to effectively demonstrate that our project has less density than many of the M1-B sites that have been developed subsequent to the adaptation of the Laguna Canyon Annexation Plan. Additionally, this project conforms to all of the applicable standards of the Laguna Canyon Annexation Plan. Therefore, while we understand the desire among the opposition for things to remain as they are, there also needs to be a reasonable expectation for change and for communities to evolve.
As an architect practicing in town for nearly 30 years, I’ve seen dozens of artist live-work projects in development for canyon sites. However, during this time, only one or two of them have been built. The reason for this is a combination economic factors, coupled with the fact that recently the city has reconstructed the artist live-work ordinance to more specifically define what an “artist” is. This was done to make sure that these types of projects do not become apartment or condominium housing, but truly are designed for artists. The Long(i)- Live-Work-Create project represents a true opportunity to be realized. In addition to being designed for a well-known local artist, it is also being financed by the Dornin Investment Group, led by Chris Dornin, a young man who grew up in this community.
If you believe as we do, that this is a good project that will benefit our community, then please let your voice be heard above the squeaky wheel of the opposition. Please come to the City Council meeting and support this project on March 18. If you can’t make it in person, please write a letter or an email to the council members.
Local architect Horst Noppenberger is a former chair of the city’s Design Review Board and a current trustee of the Laguna College of Art and Design. He can be contacted at Horst@Horst-Architects.com.