Laguna Beach ordered construction at Hotel Laguna to stop on Wednesday after city officials discovered last week that exterior work was underway without a permit, according to a letter sent to hotel-lease owner Mohammad Honarkar.
“This project has not followed the normal procedures,” community development director Marc Wiener wrote. “Typically, you would first obtain a use permit for intended uses, and then once approved, would move on to applying for a building permit. However, in this case you performed the work first without the benefit of a use permit and have not made it clear to the city what new uses are going to be.”
City officials demanded Honarkar provide a summary of the intended use of the lower-level spaces, including the conference and proposed new kitchen, as well as the commercial spaces fronting Coast Highway. This is at least the third time city officials have formally warned Honarkar to stop unpermitted work at Hotel Laguna.
“We have just received the City’s Stop Work Order and are in the process of reviewing it,” Honarkar said in a statement on Wednesday. “While we disagree with several assertions in the City’s letter, we look forward to working with City staff to correct the record and resolve the concerns that staff has raised.”
The stop-work order lands within days of a California Coastal Commission notice of a May 12 hearing after the agency’s staff found substantial errors with Laguna Beach’s approval process.
The hearing will turn on an appeal filed in March by Laguna Beach residents, Mark and Sharon Fudge, who challenged a local coastal development permit received by the developer. Among the couple’s claims is that city officials failed to properly study bluff-top construction, unlawful improvements on the beach sand, and major alterations to the historic building’s ground floor, according to a staff report.
Coastal commission staffers recommended the Commission determine that a substantial issue exists on three of the points raised by the Fudges, further clouding a possible opening date for a critical engine for the downtown economy.
“The Hotel Laguna has been an important asset to the City of Laguna Beach and the people of California for decades but has fallen into a state of disrepair,” Mark and Sharon Fudge wrote in their appeal letter. “While repairs are necessary, none of the work can be done to create an expansion of use or an expansion of the building without bringing the uses and structure into conformity with the current codes.
For years, the Fudges have advocated at the city and state levels for Laguna Beach to more strictly follow state and federal environmental laws when reviewing development applications. The couple has appealed multiple city actions to the Coastal Commission, often declaring they’ve chosen to shoulder environmental stewardship when the city hasn’t—in their opinion—followed the law to protect natural and historic resources.
In a prepared statement to the Independent, Honarkar appeared optimistic about his chances of overcoming the appeal.
“My team and I are working with the City of Laguna Beach and the [Coastal Commission] to determine the parameters for the Hotel Laguna’s restoration and feel confident that everything will be resolved in the interests of our community,” Honarkar wrote. “We will move forward as responsible stewards for Laguna’s bluebelt and will respect the building’s historicity.”
Last October, Laguna Beach issued an exemption for the Hotel Laguna to remodel the interior main and basement floor levels, adjust the slope of existing access ways around a rose garden, install a portable ramp over existing steps, and many other improvements. The Fudges quickly challenges this exemption and Honarkar’s team pivoted to pursue a coastal development permit.
The Design Review Board held a hearing and approved the project in February— this action allowed the Fudges’ to bring their challenge to the Coastal Commission.
One of the more noteworthy complaints concerns the seaward façade which contains the Marine Room, which was constructed prior to the Coastal Act’s enactment. The room is located at the base of the coastal bluff and features a deck that extends onto the beach sand. Honarkar proposed to repair and replace a 36-in. guardrail with a 42-inch guardrail that is compliant with state budding standards. A wooden deck covering would be placed over the existing concrete deck, and an existing door to the Marine Room would be replaced.
City land-use regulations for building on oceanfront bluffs, require new minor accessory structures such as decks, patios and walkways that do not require structural foundations to be at least 10 feet from the bluff edge.
“It’s very disappointing and very frustrating to all of us at the city that unpermitted work continues to go on at the hotel,” Mayor Bob Whalen said Wednesday. “We all have a common goal of getting that hotel open again but it has to happen within the rules.”
Whalen highlighted city staffers have bent over backward to get the hotel’s remodel moving forward and review permits for construction already in progress and planned.
“We want the most iconic piece of architecture in town to be open and not vacant,” he said.
The Coastal Commission’s meeting will start at 9 a.m. on May 12 and live streamed from coastal.ca.gov.