Coast Inn, liquor store projects raise rooftop sign concerns

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Laguna Beach-based Dornin Investment Group is looking to breathe new life into Coast Inn, the former home of the Boom Boom Room.

By Justine Amodeo, Special to the Independent

With an onslaught of neighborhood opposition, on July 28, the Laguna Beach City Council will consider a recommendation by the Planning Commission to approve modifications to the Coast Inn that include a rooftop bar and deck, as well as signs.

While rooftop signs have been prohibited in Laguna Beach since the 1970s, the Planning Commission recommended approving two signs at Coast Liquor that read “Beverages.” The developer also proposed a “blade sign” on the property that reads “Liquor,” city staffers said.

“The project would retain, repair and rehabilitate the important character-defining architectural features along the building’s primary elevations along South Coast Highway and Mountain Road,” Community Development Director Marc Wiener said.

While residents claim the signs on both properties require a variance because they exceed the city’s strict building height law—as well as set a precedent for potential sign blight at other locations in town—Wiener says they don’t overturn the Municipal Code’s prohibition on roof signage or uplighting. The Planning Commission recommended approval of the sign permit application “if the roof signage were redesigned to faithfully recreate the three original roof signs as they appeared in the 1950’s when the building was constructed and the liquor store first established,” Wiener said.

The Planning Commission also recommended that the developer, Dornin Investment Group, consider an alternative sign lighting design “which integrates the lights into the metal sign base to conceal and shield the lights from public view along the highway frontage, or maintain the sign lighting as proposed.”

The Coast Liquor project is tentatively set for the City Council agenda on Sept. 8.

A vintage postcard shows what Coast Liquor looked like after its opening at South Coast Highway and Mountain Drive.

But some residents, many of whom live in the Mountain Drive neighborhood, are concerned that if the council approves the signs, it will set a precedent.

“Every other building owner will insist that they should get a rooftop sign, too,” said Terry Muerer, who has been an outspoken opponent of the redevelopment projects. “No other rooftop sign has ever been supported by the Planning Commission. It is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set. Just imagine the intersection of PCH and Mountain with all these rooftop signs on buildings on both corners. It will look like Disneyland.”

At the upcoming City Council meeting, the developer is also requesting approval for large signs on the Coast Inn that are not historic to the building and a rooftop bar and deck for hotel guests only.

While most residents support the revitalization of Laguna Beach’s economy, many neighbors vocally and in writing expressed concern about looking down on a large roof cluttered with signs, flags, turrets, towers and umbrellas. Resident and tourists also won’t be able to enjoy the rooftop deck unless they rent a hotel room, Muerer said.

She added that the sign proposed by the owner, Chris Dornin, CEO of Dornin Investment Group, is not historic. “The huge 3-sided sign and flags proposed for the Coast Inn are …based on a postcard in which an artist took ‘creative license’ and illustrated a sign that never existed on the building.”

No other property in Laguna Beach has a sign or flags on the roof, including the historic Hotel La Casa del Camino, Heisler Building, and Hotel Laguna.

“The developer is not being deprived of any special privilege that any other property owner enjoys,” Meurer said. “Approval of this variance will be detrimental to the ocean views of neighboring properties and injurious to property values of residents in the vicinity.”

The Laguna Beach City Council delayed a vote on the proposed remodel of the Coast Inn until July 28 after the developer and city staffers split over who could access a rooftop pool deck. In addition to the rooftop access, the developer also nixed a plan to offer food service at a rooftop pool deck, which would have triggered the need for a conditional use permit, Wiener said. A rooftop bar restricted to only hotel guests remains in the plan, the developer said. Up to 96 guests are allowed to stay at the hotel, according to a city staff report.

For years, the Coast Inn project—which includes the historic rehabilitation of the building to reflect the original Spanish Colonial Revival style with historic turrets and signage, a new lobby, a remodeled Boom Boom Room which has been leased to Bear Flag Fish Co., 24 remodeled hotel rooms, the rooftop signs, a new deck with a pool and bar and the retention of the Garden of Peace and Love preserved by the city in remembrance of the lives lost to AIDS —has faced criticism from residents who disagree with city ordinances that will allow the hotel to be remodeled with new amenities.

The City Council meeting can be viewed online at 5 p.m. on July 28 at

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