By Cassandra Reinhart, LB | Indy
Chris Piggott has stared at the desolate city parking lot at Broadway and Forest Avenues in downtown Laguna Beach every day for more than three years.
“It’s truly an eyesore,” Piggott said. “Luckily there are the beautiful hills in the background to distract you.”
Piggott is the assistant manager at Verizon Wireless, where the windowed storefront faces the parking lot envisioned as the village entrance. It’s an area now slated to get a major makeover from the city.
“I wish they would get rid of those chain-linked fences,” Piggott said.
He may well get his wish as City Council members approved a $7.1 million village entrance design at a joint meeting with the Planning Commission Wednesday, Feb. 1. Preliminary costs come in at $6.6 million, and there will be an additional $700,000 considered at mid-year.
The approved plan is a revision of two previous plans submitted to the council in August. It will add a vehicular bridge over the flood control channel and will eliminate a Forest Avenue entrance, allowing for a more uninterrupted pedestrian pathway. It adds trees, landscaping, and a wide, multi-use trail along Laguna Canyon Road. Seating areas and public art displays will also be incorporated along the path.
The landscape will retain existing mature trees and add new trees into other spaces, said Susan Harden, part of the Michael Baker International design team hired by the city. Harden, and Roger Torriero of Griffin Structures were paid $445,000 and $244,000, respectively, thus far for the village entrance project. The council allocated an additional $40,000 to the consultants for the revision.
“Notably there is additional landscaping that has been included throughout the whole project site and new fencing all along the channel,” Harden said. “You are replacing that kind of ‘no man’s land’ with something that has a strong design and pedestrian connectivity.”
Designers were asked to try to retain as many of the nearly 400 parking spaces available at the City Hall lot and the adjoining area known as the Christmas tree lot, with an idea from council members to convert up to 25-percent of them into compact car spaces.
“What’s important in this is keeping Laguna Canyon’s character,” said horticulturist and local resident Rueben Flores. “We don’t want it to turn into another parking structure that could be located in Mission Viejo or another town.”
Flores, along with representatives from the beautification council and Village Laguna, offered minor tweaks to the proposal, asking that the pathway along Laguna Canyon Road be widened and made to meander, that rustic materials be used and to keep parking at the back so that the forefront of the area can look more park-like.
“Twenty-two years ago when this project first started, the vision was a beautiful pedestrian-oriented area that links the art fest activity areas from downtown to Main Beach,” said Johanna Felder, president of Village Laguna, which works to preserve village character. “The proposal we have ended up with is very far from that vision. The pathway isn’t protected enough from the Canyon Road to create the green space we have been hoping to see.”
The design plan also includes a small bus stop and an option to restore the historic sewer “digester building” to its original 1920s design. Torriero said the design team stayed near the council’s $6.5 million budget for the project, and suggested postponing restoration of the digester building until its reuse is determined.
Mayor Toni Iseman agreed and offered another solution to fund the disgester’s renovation. “I like the idea of waiting,” Iseman said. “I think that if there is anything in town that would qualify for federal funds for its restoration the digester would.”
For now, the digester building will get some quick fixes, such as paint and lighting, but will not get a complete restoration. The weekly farmer’s market and a new outdoor event space are envisioned for the site.
The council voted to move forward with the design plan and budget, and try to incorporate some of the tweaks suggested by Village Laguna.
It’s unclear if the project will require environmental review by the Coastal Commission; completion is estimated by summer of 2020.
For her part, Iseman wants to keep the design more rustic, and less planned-looking. “I don’t see manicured and Laguna in the same sentence,” Iseman said. “I don’t want this to be manicured. We are an irreverent community. We need to keep our integrity, which is a lack of being a planned community.”
Piggott is one resident happy that his weekday view will improve.
“I think it will be really beneficial to Laguna Beach,” Piggott said, “especially because that is what everybody sees when they first get into town.”