Museum Hotel Plan Gets Cold Reception

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Planning Commission says project should adhere to city’s General Plan

By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent

The Laguna Beach Planning Commission on Wednesday sent the developer of the proposed 118-room Museum Hotel back to the drawing board, saying the project should meet all requirements of the General Plan.

An aerial view of the Museum Hotel project site. Image courtesy of Laguna Creative Ventures.

The concept review hearing focused on the Laguna Beach Company plan to demolish buildings on seven contiguous parcels south of North Coast Highway, between Cliff Drive and Jasmine Street. The proposed three-story hotel with three levels of underground parking exceeds the 79-room limit allowed for the 44,514-square-foot property, Senior Principal Planner So Kim said.

Renderings submitted to the city show the potential design of the Museum Hotel. Images courtesy of Laguna Creative Ventures.

Planning Commissioner and hotel executive Steve Goldman delivered a stunning critique of Mo Honarkar’s current design for a four-star Michelin hotel as “a Hampton Inn hotel with a fancy restaurant.”

“To come to a beach community where you can’t see the beach, you can’t see the sky, that’s not going to be a five-star hotel,” Goldman said. “That’s going to be a tour and travel hotel. Let’s not build something and say it’s something else.”

Additional renderings courtesy of Laguna Creative Ventures.

Goldman went on to say that the Museum Hotel’s current design misses a major opportunity to offer a unique experience that truly caters to an art-loving clientele. He argues that a planned 1,000-square-foot art gallery won’t accomplish this mission and recommended that Honarkar explore dedicating rooms to visiting artists who can produce artwork that would be displayed at the hotel and other Laguna Beach galleries.

Planning Commissioner Susan McLintock Whitin levied her professional experience as a landscape architect to criticize the project for its lack of open space and creative landscaping. She encouraged the development of a botanical garden incorporating art on the property that would be attractive to both upscale visitors and residents.

“I think what we should strive to be is the best art and architecture community of our size in the county,” she said.

Honarkar said he expects the Museum Hotel will be a landmark for Laguna Beach and attract visitors who will spend money at local restaurants, art galleries, and retailers.

“I don’t want to see any closed places in this town,” he said. “We’re here to design want you like. This is my gift to you, my family’s gift to you.”

However, neighboring property owners remain unconvinced that the cultural and tax-generating benefits of the block-long development will outweigh the negative impacts on views, on-street parking, air quality, traffic circulation, and parks and beaches.

Cypress Drive resident Brad Reed said his homeowners’ association is opposed to the Museum Hotel development because it pushes the limits of the allowed building envelope.

“I take issue with the applicant’s characterization of what would be placed in this particular location,” Reed said. “In listening to his comments, I don’t see this as a landmark within this community. We already have landmarks within this community.”

Johanna Felder, president of Village Laguna, said the Museum Hotel’s proposed architecture is an unconvincing attempt to simulate the organic parcel-by-parcel development that gives Laguna its unique charm.

“The proposal would destroy a series of unique compatibly-designed buildings, some connected with important Laguna history, and replace it with one block-long structure that fills the building envelope,” Felder said.

The Royal Hawaiian is the original home of artist Anna Hills, a co-founder of the Laguna Beach Art Association, and led fundraising efforts to build its permanent gallery on Cliff Drive. Much of the building’s interior has been changed since her death in 1930, and the Laguna Beach Company plans to demolish the structure.

Monica Silva McCusker, KX 93.5 development director and member of Young Minds for Laguna’s Future, said she appreciates the time and expense the Laguna Beach Company has spent to bring forward a project, despite the complexities of building in Laguna Beach.

“Our group whole-heartedly trusts the final design will be compatible and beautiful,” she said. “The 300 block of North Coast Highway needs modernization. The hotel concept isn’t just for tourists, it’s also for residents who are craving these spaces and will utilize them and their functions.”

Planning Commission Chairman Ken Sadler recommended that the Laguna Beach Company bring back a revised plan for concept review, but admitted they’re free to move forward with a formal application.

“At this point, in my opinion, it’s got a significant amount of work that needs to be done to get to that approvable project we’re all trying to get to,” Sadler said.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I was very impressed with how respectful and sensitive the Planning Commission members were to the applicant and community members who came to express themselves. I think Think LBC was given great feedback and hoping they will work on a redesign that stands out and sets us apart from anywhere USA. Thank you to everyone involved in protecting the heart and soul of our town. I say “GO MO!” and give us something special on this site (s) and don’t ask us to settle for anything less. Thank you.

  2. Proud of our Planning Commission listening to all the earnest community feedback, and for making these developers follow the most basic city regulations concerning height, scale, density, open space, parking, etc. We are lucky to have a hotel professional, Steve Goldman, on the PC who understands the importance of making sure this massive, acre-sized, block-long project would be a viable luxury hotel there in the first place. What will make “high-end” tourists pick a hotel with no ocean view on a loud, busy highway over the numerous other upscale boutique hotels, and even 5-star resorts, to the north and south of this location? The Honarkars have proven they can get creative and tasteful with their Hive and Terra projects. Would be so great if they also tried to incorporate some of the existing structures, especially those with historic roots, with their next go-round. (Something fundamentally wrong to bulldoze the original home of Laguna Beach esteemed artist Anna Hills’ home and studio to build an art museum hotel.) Best of luck to the Honarkars getting it right next time and creating something the entire town will love!

  3. Kudos Commissioner Goldman.
    I for one am glad that the PC is not allowing the wool to be pulled over Laguna Beach’s head.
    Like most, we want to see sensible re-development in areas of Laguna Beach that truly need it, and in way that contributes to LB’s history and aesthetic.
    That said, it became clear that the submission by the developer demonstrates that their level of experience in developing hotels is practically non-existent, and shows that buying two existing hotels in the past does not make one a hotel developer.
    Therefore, it is even more critical that the PC provide ongoing feedback to LBC, and that LBC listens carefully and incorporates that feedback, so that we all can have a successful redevelopment project that most can be proud of.

  4. We were provided with excellent feedback, thank you to everyone that took the time to share their ideas and suggestions. We look forward to applying all that information as we begin the design process of the Museum Hotel concept. To correct what Commissioner Goldman stated, this version of the concept had over 8,000 square feet of open to the public and ever-changing exhibit space, not 1,000. Kindly email us at [email protected] with any additional questions, or if you would like to schedule a time to meet with our team and discuss the concept further 🙂

  5. City code for Museum Hotel is 74 rooms not the 79 stated in the article.
    Code is 1 room/ key per 600sqft of buildable lot size.
    Even if the developer builds 74 large suites within the same envelope it will not be a luxury 4 or 5 star experience.
    Commissioner Goldman made that point clear.
    Developer needs to define the target customer for the 74 rooms and resultant Hotel structure and amenities THEN design the product.
    As always: Define the Function before the Form.

  6. Commissioner Goldman, thank you. While tourism is important to Laguna, you and your team managed to protect the charm and would of this special town. Which will thrive tourism and authenticity.

  7. Mo and Hasty Honarkar – please stop the parcel aggregation strategy in Laguna Beach with projects that will negatively impact the City and make it look like a classless Newport Beach with scale that is entirely out of proportion (and by the way not make any economic sense!…like 3 levels of subterranean parking…come on). I advise you look to other areas like LA, SD, or SF to get a real return on your money and leave us all alone.

    If you don’t heed this advice, good luck – you are in for war and will get fought every step of the way. Have you heard of CEQA? You are in for a battle my friends and this non-economic parcel is not one to fight on. Sell it all and build your vision in a different city.

  8. The Audacity Of A Developer Who Wants To INVEST HIS OWN MONEY! .. How dare he propose something he sees as a great business. That block should have a LGBTQ coffee shop, a LGBTQ wedding event center, a LGBTG marriage therapist office, a LGBTQ pet store, a LGBTQ clothin boutique, a LGBTQ drug store, and a LGBTQ ART GALLERY. Why have anything for tourists? WE NEED LGBTQ investment

  9. David Fabian and Edwina Kay

    In Laguna, once admitted to the club, local-yokels take marching orders from elders who, polls reveal, are roughly 98 percent socialist. According to one recent survey, The Lincoln Club did, local-yokel-Laguna Dems outnumber Republican admin at Silly Hall by a 12-to-1 ratio on the city’s supposedly diverse organization. But such political asymmetries are magnified by a certain progressive messianic self-righteousness that turns the lectern into the pulpit, their captive class into a congregation. The rare fiscal conservative capitaliast is supposed to resign to the tragedy of their universe of left-wing gladiators who wish to slay any perceived heterodoxy.

    Laguna activism has replaced the old beach creed of laid-back inquiry. Local-yokels are starting to resemble military hardened social-justice warriors on the frontlines of Laguna’s new wars over HOTELS? HOMELESS? Pure identity politics. At Kay-Laguna-Fabian Social Warrior Base Camp, they’ve learned just enough about purported historical oppression to make them dangerous, as they topple deals, demand control of art, streets and buildings, and swarm Anyone deemed politically incorrect.

  10. ^No idea what you’re talking about. What does this have to do with a proposed building that is completely out of character, both in scale and design, with the community? If we don’t defend the character and charm we have, we become the next Huntington Beach, and it’s only through decades of diligence that we have not already. The City does not have a flawless record and there seem to have been a few misses in the 70s and 80s (i.e. Village Faire Shoppes, building Blue Lagoon on Victoria Beach, etc.), but the track record is very good and any misses only increase the importance and force with which this project must be met.

    We cannot let this project set a precedence for other developers in this city.

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