Laguna Beach City Council delays vote on Coast Inn remodel

Laguna Beach-based Dornin Investment Group is looking to breathe new life into Coast Inn, the former home of the Boom Boom Room, by adding a rooftop deck with a pool and bar for hotel guests.

The Laguna Beach City Council delayed a vote on the proposed remodel of the Coast Inn until July 28 after the developer and city staffers split over who could access a rooftop pool deck.

Dornin Investment Group’s Coast Inn project was originally scheduled to come before the City Council for review in April but that hearing was derailed by the coronavirus. City officials pushed the discussion to Tuesday but recommended another delay after learning earlier this week that Dornin was unwilling to restrict guests of paying hotel guests from accessing the rooftop pool.

“Our concern about this is if we were to allow the deck to be opened to other users other than the guests this could affect the CEQA categorical exemption that we applied to this that was done with the premise that this would be a modification to an existing use,” Community Development Director Marc Wiener said Tuesday. “It was an additional amenity to the guests, not necessarily a new activity area for outside users.”

In addition to the rooftop access, the developer also nixed a plan to offer food service at a rooftop pool deck, which would have triggered the need for a conditional use permit, Wiener said. A rooftop bar restricted to only hotel guests remains in the plan, the developer said.

“A lot of these changes have happened just yesterday afternoon or evening and today so I don’t believe the staff has had the time to appropriately analyze them, the city attorney needs additional time as well for some of the legal arguments that have been made,” City Manager John Pietig said Tuesday.

A Jan. 27 letter sent to councilmembers by Dornin attorney Patrick Perry, states the new rooftop deck “will be restricted to hotel guests.” Chris Dornin, CEO of Dornin Investment Group said Tuesday that the city “disregarded” this and other communications about this topic.

“We made our position clear back in January and the fact we are sitting here with confusion about the staff report and what we were proposing shouldn’t ever have existed to begin with and so it’s very frustrating from an applicant’s standpoint that we are in the position because we shouldn’t be,” Dornin said.

Dornin added that it would not be economically feasible to hire security guards to check the IDs of pool visitors against a list of guests staying at the 24-room hotel. Instead, he’s willing to cap the rooftop deck’s occupancy at the maximum number of permitted hotel guests. Up to 96 guests are allowed to stay at the hotel, according to a city staff report.

Another sticking point for city staffers was that the developer wanted to increase the rooftop deck’s area from 2,812 to 3,707 square feet. City staffers are now suggesting the deck area be reduced to 2,700 square feet, which would still make it the largest rooftop deck in Laguna Beach, according to a city staff report.

“We can still require a CUP of the hotel and the rooftop area because the rooftop is a new activity area as a modification to the site.

For years, the Coast Inn project has faced criticism from residents who disagree with city rules that allow the hotel to be remodeled with new amenities, but not provide any off-street parking spaces, because of how the city allowed the hotel to be allowed developed in 1927. They’ve also shared concerns about additional traffic in their neighborhood and new light and noise pollution from the rooftop deck.

Leslie Sklar, whose family owns a Gaviota Drive home, was among the community members who advocated Tuesday for the City Council to send the project back to the Planning Commission for additional review.

“If the developer doesn’t want this process to go on and on and on and risk citizens and residents appealing then perhaps they can actually address the issues that are so concerning to residents who don’t approve of this proposal,” Sklar said.

Councilmember Peter Blake said that after months of delays and “stall tactics” he supported the council holding a vote on the project.

“In reality, we all know this is going to get appealed back to [the] Coastal [Commission] and it’s also going to fought in the courts over CEQA,” Blake said.

Councilmember Toni Iseman argued the Planning Commission would have the time and skills to fully examine the concerns raised by city staffers and residents this week.

“To have people complain about how long this is taking but changing it all the time, there has to be some level of responsibility involved with that,” she said.

The councilmembers voted 4-1, with Iseman opposed, to continue Tuesday’s discussion on the Coast Inn to their July 28 meeting.

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