Significant uproar over a new proposed restaurant at 680 S.
Coast Highway, site of the long-closed Mosun restaurant, caused the Planning Commission last week to put off consideration of the project due to unaddressed concerns over parking, noise and view obstructions until Jan. 20.
The Red Dragon is the development concept of property owner Enshan Zhao, desires to bring a Chinese dining option to town. City records show that Zhao’s Trioasis Management LLC, based in Laguna Beach, two years ago paid $3.5 million for the property that formerly housed the popular sushi restaurant Mosun and Club M nightclub. Mosun fell into foreclosure and closed in 2011.
Speaking for Zhao at the hearing, local architect James Conrad laid out a proposal to redesign the structure originally built in 1940, which despite significant changes does not quality as a “major remodel” that modifies more than 50 percent of an existing structure. The proposed revisions include the construction of a third-story rooftop dining area of 1,496 square feet, interior structural changes to the 3,688 square foot ground level and adding a deck to the second level.
In all, the new space as proposed would house 213 customers and serve food and drinks from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Planning Commission members and 20 citizens intently listened as Conrad described the plans, which would impact neighboring businesses on Coast Highway and tenants in homes behind the structure on Ramona Avenue, a narrow, one-lane dead-end.
Speakers vociferously opposed the proposed plan, which would require Ramona Avenue access for truck deliveries and trash pick-up.
Ramona Avenue residents predicted that the already congested street would only get worse if the new access is granted. “Ramona is already at capacity. People already utilize my driveway and there has been damage to my property,” one resident indicated. “The street is so busy and dangerous now,” said Beth Leeds, a resident at 671 Ramona. “Safety is a real issue and someone will be killed and it will be your fault.”
Other skeptics raised questions about parking, view obstruction and noise. “I lived through Mosun and it was terrible from a parking perspective,” said Carl Iverson, who lives at 580 Ramona and is a member of the city’s Heritage Committee. In the proposal, Red Dragon will have 118 parking spaces grandfathered to them under previous property agreements, a point that Iverson noted were “fantasy parking spots.”
In 1991, city officials approved a restaurant on the premises of a former Masonic Temple with the condition that the operators provide valet parking and 118 spaces, a Nov. 18 staff report says. Onsite parking was not required because the restaurant was a less intense use than the temple, the report says.
In a letter addressed to the committee, Maria Price, owner of rental properties at 671 and 637 Glennerye St., called the project “absolutely unacceptable,” citing a potential loss of property value and rental income due to “impeding the views that our tenants have enjoyed for decades.”
Though not present at the meeting, project supporters of a different mood and attitude were easy to find at ground level on South Coast Highway. “I think opening the business is totally going to benefit the block and make our block more alive,” said Spirit Qin, owner of Personalitees-EZ Custom Design, a print shop, at 670 S. Coast Highway.
Neighbor Kavita Reddy, proprietor of Buy Hand, which sells handmade goods, expressed her excitement about the restaurant opening. Since the closing of Mosun in 2011, Reddy noted that there has been “no anchor tenant and very little foot traffic,” she said. “We have been working with our hands tied behind our back. This opening will revive our block. I would be shocked if any business on the block would object.”
Apparently true, as Reddy’s position was reiterated by Carolyn Ramos, property manager at 14 West, a boutique hotel at 690 S. Coast Highway. “We have been waiting a long-time for something new to take Mosun’s place,” she said. “The building’s appearance is an eyesore and makes the neighborhood look bad. We are very excited for the space to be filled again.”
Planning Commission members suggested plan changes to limit deliveries to Coast Highway or restrictions on the size of trucks using Ramona. “There are legitimate concerns that neighborhood residents raise about introducing a commercial loading zone into Ramona,” said chair Ken Sadler. Conrad said the design would incorporate street improvements to Ramona, but commission members directed him to revise plans for truck delivery on Coast Highway.
Despite postponing action on the conditional use permit request, commission members expressed tentative support for the project if the owner makes the suggested revisions to satisfy their concerns. “That whole side of the street has been a catastrophe,” said one commission member. “This project is good for that street.”