Art school, Laguna Beach Co. explore moving college’s main campus
By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
The Laguna College of Art + Design and Laguna Beach Company are discussing the concept of consolidating the main campus at the Arts District, which would move students out of the 2222 Laguna Canyon Road property that’s been an art school since 1977.
LCAD President Jonathan Burke said the idea to consolidate the campus, which occupies buildings on both sides of Laguna Canyon, was floated in the past by city officials and other individuals.
“I haven’t seen a conceptual plan,” Burke said. “We’re certainly interested to engage in a discussion to see what’s involved down there and improve the educational environment for students.”
Laguna Beach Company plans to submit an application for city staffers and the Planning Commission to review this concept by the end of this year, according to a Memorandum of Understanding approved by the City Council in July. The campus consolidation plan includes Seven-Degrees, 891 Laguna Canyon Road; The Hive, 805-859 Laguna Canyon Road; and Art-A-Fair, 777 Laguna Canyon Road.
Laguna Beach Company is the development company founded and owned by Laguna resident Mo Honarkar. The group has submitted applications to build two hotel projects—the Cleo and the Museum hotels—and is preparing other applications to rehabilitate Hotel Laguna, develop a low-density housing project on Canyon Acres Drive, and redevelop the Bluff between Hotel Laguna and Legion Street.
“We’re big supporters of the Laguna College of Art + Design, and we are passionate about keeping this incredible school and the brilliant minds that attend here in Laguna,” Honarkar said in a statement.
In late 2017, LCAD was looking for space to accommodate its augmented and virtual reality program and Laguna Beach Company was able to identify a space for this program at the Hive, Honarkar said.
“Discussions with the school are ongoing and we’re hoping we can help create solutions to some of the concerns they face, including students crossing the busy canyon highway,” Honarkar said.
Hasty Honarkar, vice president of Laguna Creative Ventures and daughter of Mo Honarkar, joined the LCAD Board of Trustees in July 2018.
“Hasty is recusing herself from the conversation due to the potential conflict of interest per LCAD’s conflict of interest policy in the Trustee bylaws,” LCAD spokesman Marc Lyncheski wrote in an email.
LCAD has had a presence at the properties at The Hive for 25 years, Burke said. There’s freshman housing at the site and student art labs occupy five of the 15 office suites in the Center. At its July 24 meeting, the Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for a sixth studio serving six undergraduates majoring in drawing and painting.
Planning Commission Chairman Ken Sadler urged Burke and his leadership team to do more public outreach on how it plans to develop its campus in coming decades.
“Sometimes the canyon and other members of the public have said, ‘Where’s the long-term strategic plan for the college?’ and ‘How come we don’t have a big picture and know what you guys are going to do?’” Sadler said.
The Arts District location is appealing to LCAD in part because its students would have a much shorter walk to the festival grounds, restaurants, and other downtown amenities, Burke said.
The move would require new homes for 12 teaching studios, the student lounge, the writing lab, library, and a department chair’s office.
Honarkar will also explore adding needed LCAD student housing and underground parking at the Arts District.
Another benefit for consolidating the campus is that students and staff members will no longer have to cross Laguna Canyon Road. Burke said the pedestrians using the crosswalk today are mostly faculty and staff walking to and from the main campus.
“Safety is a primary concern of mine and the trustees,” Burke said. “Although we’re on both sides of the canyon, students don’t have to come to the administration building.”
The details of any real estate transaction between LCAD and Laguna Beach Co., including a potential land swap, haven’t been explored yet, Burke said.
Laguna Beach resident Andy Coyle has owned and operated Laguna Classic Cars across the street from LCAD’s main campus since 2011. He believes that reducing the pedestrian traffic from the College might actually encourage motorists to continue speeding upwards of 65 mph.
“I question the motivation and that’s why we should figure it out before we discuss that [move],” Coyle said. “What’s the end plan? Because obviously there’s more to it than [Honarkar’s] altruism about people crossing the street.”
Penelope Milne, president of Laguna Bach Canyon Alliance of Neighborhoods Defense Organization, said that when LCAD built its main campus on what was once open space, the community expected that it would remain a public institution.
“It would be hard to justify another use taking over there,” she said. “Protection of the open space is not just important to CANDO, but to the entire community. Most people would find a development on that side [of the Canyon] problematic.”
Milne is concerned with the potential environmental impacts of creating more density in the Arts District and losing some resident-serving businesses to LCAD operations.
“The crossing from the main campus to the administration building has been problematic,” she said. “Obviously, if there is a reason for people to cross, there’s a need for the crossing to be signalized.” She acknowledged that moving the campus could relieve those pedestrian safety and traffic congestion concerns.
Laguna Creative Ventures recently opened a showroom at 345 North Coast Highway where members of the public can see concept drawings and miniature neighborhood models of the Arts District and other Laguna Beach Company projects. To book an appointment, contact community development liaison Karyn Philippsen at [email protected].