Hotel Laguna remodel appeal heads to Coastal Commission

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A lone guest keeps a light on at Hotel Laguna in the last weeks of operation by the Andersen family. Photo by Mitch Ridder.

The pending remodel of Hotel Laguna will be reviewed by the California Coastal Commission on May 12 after the agency’s staffers found substantial errors with Laguna Beach’s approval process.

The hearing will turn on an appeal filed in March by Laguna Beach residents, Mark and Sharon Fudge, who challenged a local coastal development permit received by the hotel’s ground-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, and major alterations to the historic building’s ground floor, according to a staff report.

Coastal commission staffers recommended the Commission determine that a substantial issue exists on three of the points raised by the Fudges, further clouding a possible opening date for a critical engine for the downtown economy.

“The Hotel Laguna has been an important asset to the City of Laguna Beach and the people of California for decades but has fallen into a state of disrepair,” Mark and Sharon Fudge wrote in their appeal letter. “While repairs are necessary, none of the work can be done to create an expansion of use or an expansion of the building without bringing the uses and structure into conformity with the current codes.

In a prepared statement sent to the Independent on Tuesday, Honarkar appeared optimistic about his chances of overcoming the appeal.

“My team and I are working with the City of Laguna Beach and the [Coastal Commission] to determine the parameters for the Hotel Laguna’s restoration and feel confident that everything will be resolved in the interests of our community,” Honarkar wrote. “We will move forward as responsible stewards for Laguna’s bluebelt and will respect the building’s historicity.”

Last October, Laguna Beach issued an exemption for the Hotel Laguna to remodel the interior main and basement floor levels, adjust the slope of existing access ways around a rose garden, install a portable ramp over existing steps, and many other improvements. The Fudges quickly challenges this exemption and Honarkar’s team pivoted to pursue a coastal development permit.

The Design Review Board held a hearing and approved the project in February— this action allowed the Fudges’ to bring their challenge to the Coastal Commission.

One of the more noteworthy complaints concerns the seaward façade which contains the Marine Room, which was constructed prior to the Coastal Act’s enactment. The room is located at the bluff’s base and includes a deck that extends onto the beach sand. Honarkar proposed to repair and replace a 36-inch guardrail with a 42-inch guardrail to comply with state building standards. A wooden deck covering would be placed over the existing concrete deck, and an existing Marine Door door would be replaced.

City land-use regulations for building on oceanfront bluffs require new minor accessory structures such as decks, patios, and walkways that do not require structural foundations to be at least 10 feet from the bluff edge, according to a staff report.

The Coastal Commission’s meeting will start at 9 a.m. on May 12 and live streamed from coastal.ca.gov.

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