Coast Liquor Remodel, New Cafe Get OK from Laguna Beach City Council

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An architect’s rendering of a potential new look for Coast Liquor. Courtesy of Marshall Ininns Design Group

The Laguna Beach City Council approved the remodel of the historic Coast Liquor store and an adjacent cottage linked to the 1932 Olympic Games on Tuesday.

The project’s approval marks the second win in two months for Chris Dornin, president of Dornin Investment Group, who obtained a green light from the City Council for a remodel of the Coast Inn in July. The California Coastal Commission has already received an appeal request on the Coast Inn and its likely Coast Liquor will face the same hurdle.

Dornin’s plans for Coast Liquor did not sail through the city unchanged. The City Council rejected a proposal for a new 2,500-square-foot office in a basement that faces Gaviota Drive, saying it should be limited to storage. Councilmembers also refused to let the developer light a black-lettered “Beverages” sign on top of the building that will be rebuilt as part of the historic restoration.

“It’s just too much. You can’t get everything you want all the time,” Mayor Bob Whalen said.

The approved plan includes a 1,220-square-foot liquor store and a 1,4510-square-foot Better Buzz Coffee shop at 1391 S. Coast Hwy. The project would also add outdoor tables and chairs for 28 people adjacent to the sidewalk.

“I think the cafe is going to be a great community amenity,” Whalen said.

After much debate, the City Council agreed to follow the Planning Commission’s recommendation for the developer to restore the original stained redwood finish to the building’s exterior as depicted in a historic postcard.

“We are pleased with the outcome and although we preferred the grey, white and black color scheme we are happy that council went 100% historical and included the signage with the redwood color,” Dornin wrote in an email Wednesday. “We think the staff, specifically Anthony [Viera] and Marc [Wiener] did an excellent job of articulating the project, its history, and responding to the council and public.”

Dornin is planning to re-stripe the surface parking lot off of Mountain Road to accommodate 13 parking spaces, instead of the existing 11 spaces. The addition of a cafe without also providing more off-street parking for its customers and employees has been a major issue of concern for neighbors.

In return for restoring the Chris Abel-designed Mid-Century modern liquor store and the Olympic cottage to their historic appearance, the City Council agreed to a 54% reduction in the on-site parking requirements.

Councilmember Sue Kempf suggested that not every customer at Better Buzz and Coast Liquor would need a parking space.

“I used to live on Catalina and I would park my car [at home] and walk everywhere. It’s a good lifestyle down there,” Kempf said.

Even though the Coast Inn and Coast Liquor are legally separate, a group of residents including Gaviota Drive homeowners has complained that city leaders failed to understand the totality of both projects’ impacts on traffic, parking, light pollution, and trash collection.

“It’s hard to believe there’s not going to be cumulative neighborhood impact when you consider the Coast Inn has an occupancy of more than 700 restaurant and hotel guests and employees,” Gaviota Drive resident Terry Meurer said.

Jeffrey Redeker, a Laguna Beach resident and commercial banker, said he liked the building’s design and that it will reenergize a vacant corner.

“Being that I live on Oak Street—right down the street from this—I look forward to patronizing the businesses that are going to be there. It’s going to be great rather than having an empty liquor store right in front of an old adult video store,” Redeker said.

The meeting took a dark turn later in the meeting when Councilmember Toni Iseman started talking about how she lived in the neighborhood and believed she was the most representative of its residents. An unknown male voice cut into the Zoom call, clearly saying “bitch.”

An incredulous Kempf asked, “What was that?”

“I didn’t get all of it but it didn’t sound like a very nice comment that was made so someone may owe an apology here,” Whalen said.

The City Council then continued its discussion. After the 4-1 vote—Iseman was the lone dissenter— she addressed the offensive comment from earlier in the meeting

“I know I heard at least ‘bitch,’ and I think I recognize the voice,” Iseman said. “I’m asking the city to … give me the clip of that voice and I will have it analyzed.”

She also asked the comment be included in the minutes and the speaker identified by the next council meeting.

Members of the public typically have to be unmuted by the City Clerk before they can speak during Zoom meetings. A select group of panelists that includes councilmembers and city staffers can unmute themselves. It doesn’t appear that Iseman suspects a city official of using the slur.

“Regarding the inappropriate comment that was overheard while Toni was speaking, I can only hope it was a result of some random Zoom bombing or an inadvertent comment that wasn’t specifically directed towards her,” Dornin wrote in an email. “If it wasn’t, I hope whoever it was apologizes and addresses this directly with her.”

This story is developing and will be updated as necessary.

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