By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
Laguna Beach planning commissioners sent a plan to redevelop the Holiday Inn as a 112-room boutique hotel back to the drawing board on Wednesday, Nov. 7, partly because it would require eliminating a cap on hotel density from the municipal code.
The Planning Commission reviewed the preliminary concept for the Cleo Hotel project at 690 South Coast Highway so that 4G Ventures, which is owned by local real estate investor Mo Honarkar, could gauge the first impression of the commissioners and public before formally submitting its application.
Existing city standards allow for up to 80 hotel rooms on the site based on its acreage. The additional 42 proposed rooms would typically require a variance from the Planning Commission.
“The applicant has asked instead that the municipal code be changed basically to allow higher density. I don’t get that one. I have a real hard time seeing how I could ever find that to be a good solution,” Planning Commissioner Ken Sadler said.
Commissioner Anne Johnson also said that the proposed project should be knocked down to 80 hotel rooms.
“I’d have to be convinced for any expansion beyond that,” she said.
The Cleo Hotel’s proposal includes three levels of underground parking encompassing 223 parking spaces. However, based on the project’s square footage, city standards require that the project should have about 256 spaces.
A few of the planning commissioners were skeptical about whether the proposed parking could accommodate visitors at the hotel’s meeting rooms and its rooftop restaurant.
Planning Commissioner Susan McLintock Whitin said the city should require all of the hotel employees to park at an offsite lot and be shuttled to work if the proposal is approved.
One of the major concerns expressed by the Holiday Inn’s neighbors is that there is already a lot of vehicle traffic from customers and deliveries at the Ralph’s grocery store across the street from the proposed hotel, and that adding underground parking would make the situation worse.
Laguna Beach resident Paul Coluzzi’s home is located at Catalina and Cleo streets, and he said he’s nearly been hit several times by cars trying to enter or leave the market.
“That area is a nightmare for traffic and we need to be concerned about it no matter what the studies show,” Coluzzi said. “Do the studies, but please interpret them correctly.”
Another wrinkle created by the project is that 4G Ventures would demolish 14 residential units in the mixed-use buildings at 680-690 South Coast Highway. Typically, this is prohibited by the General Plan unless the units are replaced somewhere else in town or the developer pays an in-lieu fee for future affordable housing. 4G Ventures has told that city it plans to replace the apartments elsewhere in town.
Jill James, a resident at 671 Glenneyre Street, which shares a property line with the north side of the proposed hotel site, said she’ll lose her view, air flow, and sunlight in her apartment as a result of the project, adding that a new wall will be 15 to 20 feet from her living room.
“I believe this to be well oversized for the neighborhood, it impacts the residents of this town significantly, and it should be sent back to the drawing board or put aside,” James said.
Sam Goldstein, a local real estate investor who renovated Laguna Beach’s Heisler Building, said his fellow residents are overblowing the extent the Cleo Hotel’s rooftop restaurant will generate noise that negatively impacts their quality of life.
“I find it an offense that these people find rooftop dining is going to destroy their rooms, and their life and their neighborhood,” he said. “It’s appalling to think that way.”
Despite the disagreement over the proposed Cleo Hotel, Whitin said she’s optimistic that the project will change through the public process to a new design that residents can respect and enjoy.
Mark Orgill, president of Laguna Creative Ventures, which is the development firm helping Honarkar seek approvals for the project, said his team will let the city know if it wants to return for a second conceptual review or proceed with a formal application.
“We’re going to have to really digest what we’ve heard tonight and some of the recommendations,” Orgill said. “There’s a lot to analyze. We have some economics that we have to work into the whole analysis as well.”