By Daniel Langhorne | LB Indy
A proposal to add a rooftop pool and renovate the historic Coast Inn will come before the Laguna Beach City Council on April 7, more than two years after Council members sent the applicant back to the drawing board.
Laguna Beach-based Dornin Investment Group is looking to breathe new life into the former home of the Boom Boom Room, a landmark for Laguna Beach’s LGBT community, by adding a 3,073-square-foot rooftop deck with a pool and bar for hotel guests, according to a letter from Architect Marshall Ininns.
“The Coast Inn hotel will remain with its existing 24 hotel rooms along with the hotel lobby on the second floor, accessed from a stairway and elevator from Mountain Road,” Ininns wrote. “This has been the same use for over 80 years and has no [conditional use permit.]”
Chris and Marcella Dornin acquired the Coast Inn in December 2013 and have struggled to get plans through city hall ever since.
In January 2018, the Council unanimously agreed to pause plans for reviving the historic Coast Highway property. The Council appointed then-councilmembers Bob Whalen and Rob Zur Schmiede to a two-person subcommittee to work with the Dornins on a scaled-down version.
Through that process, the Dornins spiked their plans for adding an oceanfront restaurant and opening a public rooftop restaurant, bar and pool.
Gaviota Drive resident Terry Meurer said the project application has been changed so drastically that the City Council should ask the Planning Commission to review the latest iteration before it takes action. She’s concerned the project would attract more cars to Mountain Drive, block neighbors’ ocean views, negatively impact the bluff’s geological conditions by adding a heavy rooftop pool, and create noise and light pollution.
“This is the biggest rooftop deck in the city that he’s proposing,” Meurer said.
Chris Dornin said Wednesday that Bear Flag Fish Co. has signed a 10-year lease for the former Boom Boom Room space, which already has the permits necessary for entertainment, alcohol service, and dining. The restaurant will move in and the 24 hotel rooms will remain open regardless of what happens on Tuesday, he said.
“By in large, the opposition wants to see no changes in Laguna and is concerned about attracting any more people,” he said. “Opposing this project isn’t going to keep that [restaurant] from opening. That’s not what’s on the table for approval.”
If the Council denies the project, the historic building’s exterior won’t be restored to its former grandeur, Dornin said. He also claims that neighbors’ argument that the private rooftop pool could be opened for public use in the future is unfounded, considering the city’s rigid parking requirements.
When Mozambique went before the Planning Commission for a review of its rooftop deck in September 2012, Dornin spoke during public comment about the project’s negative impact on the property values of his Pearl Street neighborhood.
“The people are going to be looking right into my living room,” Dornin said. “The fact that it’s not going to intensify the traffic is completely silly. Why spend all of this money if you’re not going to increase business and increase traffic flow? That’s pretty ridiculous in my mind.”
On Wednesday, Dornin backpedaled on these statements, claiming he and his wife changed their minds about Mozambique after the owner agreed to move an elevator shaft that would have impacted their view.
“We were completely satisfied with that,” he said. “Yeah, we came out at the initial hearing, then we met on-site with Ivan Spiers and his architect.”
Muerer argues that Dornin is trying to “have his cake and eat it too” by claiming the restaurant has grandfathered conditions that don’t require him to provide on-site parking for customers. At the same time, he’s seeking construction permits for a new rooftop deck.
“It’s either grandfathered in and it’s operated that way, or it needs a conditional use permit,” she said.
Laguna Beach resident Roger Butow argues it’s unfair for the city to consider allowing Coast Inn a total occupancy of 640 people without providing a single parking space.
“He has abandoned all plans for valet or off-site parking,” Butow wrote in a letter. “He clearly does not have the interests of the City or the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods in mind.”
The City Council was initially slated to discuss the project on Tuesday, Feb. 4, but city staff confirmed on Wednesday that the item has been continued to April 7.
“We are working with the applicant to navigate the current issues related to Major Remodel, as the Coastal Commission’s definition of Major Remodel and Blufftop setbacks pose significant issues for several projects in Laguna Beach,” City Manager John Pietig said in a prepared statement. “Staff is working aggressively to develop revised ordinances on these matters that meet both City Council and Coastal Commission approval.”