Coast Inn remodel clears Coastal Commission

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This photo shows the Coast Inn’s longest-standing look from after the second story was added in 1933 until a fire in 1956. Courtesy of Carolyn Smith Burris

The California Coastal Commission has denied an appeal of the proposed remodel for Coast Inn, allowing the project to inch toward construction on the historic building’s exterior and 24 guest rooms.

DIG Coast Inn, LLC successfully earned the Laguna Beach City Council’s approval for the project more than a year ago. At the recommendation of the Coastal Commission’s staff, the developer has eliminated plans for a rooftop pool and deck.

We are pleased with the decision and excited to move the project forward and based on the responses I have received so far so is most of Laguna residents,” Chris Dornin, CEO of Dornin Investment Group, wrote in an email Thursday.

Before the Commission’s unanimous vote on Aug. 13, Dornin’s attorney Spencer Kallick emphasized that the percentage of structure being replaced or modified is below the 50% threshold that triggers a major remodel review. But there will still be noticeable modifications to the hotel’s exterior that would return the building to closer to its appearance before the 1960s.

Three proposed turrets that do not currently exist will be installed and were likely removed from the historic structure, which dates back to 1927. The tallest turret will be located outside the bluff setback near South Coast Highway, serving as a new elevator shaft to provides access up to the fourth floor, or two stories above street level. A proposed new sign is three feet tall and about 234 square feet in total area. This will exceed the 150-square-foot  maximum allowed for signs under the Local Coastal Plan.

By pursuing these and other exterior alterations, the applicant would obtain the E-rating for historical preservation under city law, making it eligible for a Mills Act contract that offers tax breaks for preserving historic structures.

Laguna Beach residents Mark and Sharon Fudge had appealed the projects on several fronts, including that the remodel would pave the way for intensifying use of the buff top building without adding a single on-site parking space.

Sharon Fudge highlighted a 1992 restaurant configuration of 54 seats in the restaurant next to the proposed 121 seats. Similarly, the former Boom Boom Room bar seating will increase from 40 to 86 seats.

Gaviota Drive residents have also expressed concern about how plans to open a Bear Flag Restaurant without any onsite parking would create traffic congestion and parking headaches in their neighborhood. Meanwhile, Dornin has continuously noted that he already possesses the necessary permits to operate the restaurant space and can open it by right.

Coastal Commissioner Mike Wilson said he’s OK with this project the way that it is because the building was originally developed without minimum parking requirements

“If the appeal is really based on that, this would be a parking lot,” Wilson said. “It would just be so terrible for a historic building. It would be terrible for a historic downtown.”

Carolyn Smith Burris, the granddaughter of the Coast Inn’s builder and original owner, was among the community members who urged the Coastal Commission to consider adding several architectural elements that would truly restore the hotel’s original look. She was particularly grateful the Commission agreed with her assessment that Spanish Colonial Revival arches above stairs leading up to the guest rooms should remain untouched.

After eight and a half years of public hearings, she’s happy to see the hotel finally moving forward but still believes city officials need to hold the developer to promises of a thoughtful restoration.

“There is reason to verify that the E-rating is going to be validated,” Burris said. “If someone is going to be given an E-rating they need to get an E-rating quality work.”

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  1. The building was originally developed without minimum parking requirements because there weren’t many cars in 1927, and plenty of parking existed in undeveloped Laguna Beach. To use that as the foundation for not requiring consideration for the additional parking that’d be required for the refurbished Coast Inn is irresponsible … it just doesn’t make sense – why would anybody accept that rational? Especially when it’s being designed to accommodate twice the original capacity. I love restoring the building – it historic and represents Laguna Beach well … but lets be reasonable.

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