Sometimes the Answer is ‘No’
Last week, the Planning Commission made “No” very clear to the Coast Inn applicants who sought a roof deck and other large additions in the context of a historic restoration to the 1930s hotel.
This project sells itself as a historical restoration of a 24-room hotel and liquor store, yet it includes 352 restaurant/bar seats including a 175-seat roof deck, which the original hotel never had. For all these uses the project provides 13 parking spaces, even though the parking demand is 197 spaces.
The forest of umbrellas and heaters on the roof would decidedly detract from the historical character of the restoration and essentially add another level to the already massive building. Roof top additions violate the city’s 36- foot limit.
The commission’s unanimous denial was preceded by their comments regarding the lack of authenticity of the historic restoration; the questionable status of the project as a minor remodel considering the extent of the structural and other modifications needed; misuse of parking credits; the damaging effect of the roof top deck; and the impacts on the neighborhood.
The commissioners were well prepared; their comments were clear and fact-based. Perhaps their analysis has benefitted from previous cases where compromises were struck—trying to accommodated an applicant whose requests turned out to be over reaching. Carefully crafted compromises may be sometimes appropriate, but there are cases where the skills of compromising are wrongly applied.
Permissions to add restaurant seats and roof top dining in other cases have caused severe noise and parking impacts on surrounding neighbors. Umbrellas increase the apparent heights of buildings, and rather than being a subtle festive look, they serve as another form of advertising for the restaurant. Complaints, hearings, over and over, have consumed the energy of the neighbors, planning commission and council.
Another application, for the Drake restaurant and jazz club at the former Tabu Grill near Nyes Place, proposes to expand the restaurant into the space next door, increasing the seating from 56 to 89, and the occupancy to 110.
The restaurant has five parking spaces allocated to it in the rear of the building. The rest of the customers will be valet parked under offices next door in a lot that has 14 spaces, plus room for two motorcycles. There are four additional non-permanent spaces behind the veterinary office. Where will the other customers park? In the fictitious “grandfathered spaces.” Another case of too much in very confined and busy spot.
How will this not affect the neighbors above Hinkle Place? The Planning Commission did not approve the expansion, but the City Council is in the process of approving it pending expanded width on the neighboring driveway.
No one counts the impact of the stress and trouble that the neighbors have to endure to get small concessions in the operation of a restaurant that is too large for its location.
Residents should not have to make it their life’s work to keep their neighborhoods as quiet and delightful as they found them.
Rather than being sympathetic and accommodating, the applicant for the Coast Inn seems to view residents as impediments to the projects he wants to build. In his comments in the Indy last week he seemed to want to get even with the objectors to his project rather than find ways to bring about a project that would be compatible.
We should follow the Planning Commission’s lead and say “no” more often. This is not an unfamiliar experience in the development world. It is part of doing business, especially when the development proposal pushes the envelope.
Local resident and real estate consultant John Thomas asks, “While it is so difficult to build a house in Laguna, why does the city seem to over compensate on the business side? Approving projects that are overreaching–beyond what the rules allow. What is the purpose of encouraging ever-increasing commercial intensity in Laguna Beach? In my day job I do financial analysis for developers. They get their proposals turned down all the time and they are used to being turned down all the time. In Laguna Beach we need to just say ‘no’ more often. The most successful developers are those who look at the rules and design reasonable projects.”
The author is a landscape architect and former City Council member.