Coastal Commission OKs probe into Hotel Laguna remodel

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Coast Highway traffic rushes past Hotel Laguna. Photo by Allison Jarrell.

The California Coastal Commission voted Wednesday to find substantial issue with how Laguna Beach approved Hotel Laguna’s remodel, indefinitely delaying the historic landmark’s reopening.

The hearing turned on an appeal filed in March by Laguna Beach residents, Mark and Sharon Fudge, who challenged a local coastal development permit received by hotel-lease owner Mohammad Honarkar. Among the couple’s claims is that city officials failed to properly study bluff-top construction, unlawful improvements on the beach sand, major alterations to the historic building’s ground floor, and piecemealing the project via multiple permit applications.

“Because of these potential inconsistencies with the [Local Coastal Program] and Coastal Act, staff recommends a determination that the project raises a substantial issue,” commission district director Karl Schwing said.

Without comment, the state commissioners agreed to hold a De Novo hearing at a future meeting that has yet to be scheduled. Sharon Fudge declined to comment on Wednesday’s vote.

“It is unfortunate that this delay will prevent us from having an early summer opening for the restaurant,” Honarkar said in a prepared statement Thursday. “The Coastal Commission’s decision was expected, and our hope is that the De Novo hearing is scheduled sooner rather than later so we can resume with the Hotel Laguna’s restoration.”

The state panel’s meeting followed a May 5 stop-work order issued by Laguna Beach after city officials discovered that exterior work was underway without a permit, according to a letter sent to 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.

Last November, the Honarkars announced plans to reopen Hotel Laguna’s restaurant and bar, hotel lobby, terrace, and rose garden. None of these plans have come to fruition yet.

The restaurant concept is still slated to be a partnership with Michelin star-winning Chef Craig Strong, said Hasty Honarkar, vice president of the Laguna Beach Co.

Hospitality workers represented by UNITE HERE Local 11 lobbied the commission Wednesday to uphold state law that precludes businesses from encroaching on Laguna Beach natural resources owned by all Californians.

“We are very happy that the Commission has taken the first step to address potential Coastal Act inconsistencies with the Hotel Laguna redevelopment by finding substantial issue with the developer’s proposed renovations,” Danielle Wilson, a research analyst for hospitality union, said in a prepared statement. “We hope to see the same level of scrutiny applied to forthcoming hotel redevelopments in Laguna Beach, including at the Surf & Sand Resort and Pacific Edge.”

The Honarkars have been working with Robert Chattel, a historical consultant and architect, since acquiring the property in 2019. Chattel submitted part one of the application for the hotel to be on the National Registry of Historic Places that year and continues to work through this project.

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  1. Same thing happened to the deal George Clooney and Brad Pitt were backing. Laguna-shameful Communists rule.

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