Moderating an Overreach
The day after the Coast Inn hearing last week at the City Council here was this surprise email from one of the testifiers who had urged approval of the project the night before,
“I actually wish I could take back my statement about building the Coast Inn as designed, especially after hearing all of the opposing testimony.”
The mayor logically divided the testimony into pro and con, but with the supporters of the project all speaking first, the “pro” speakers had little insight into the issues the “con” speakers were going to present. The advocates for the Chris Dornin/Marshall Ininns version of the hotel and liquor store emphasized the need for the city to help the project move forward so that it could help stimulate Laguna’s economy. Why has this taken so long, they wanted to know?
If the project supporters had known that the project is not a true historic restoration, even though it is described as such, they might have understood why the approvals have dragged on. A complete remodel “down to the studs,” as described by attorney Larry Nokes when speaking in favor of the project, is not a restoration.
The roof-top deck with all its appurtenances—elevator tower, trellises, and rows of umbrellas–was not a historical feature. These features read as another layer/story on the building and are the elements that require a height variance. The bar and restaurant on the roof-top deck add 175 seats and 59 spaces to the parking demand.
The contemporary banks of floor to ceiling glass on the ocean-facing side and the glass railings are not appropriate for Spanish colonial revival style and give a very conflicting modern appearance to the hotel as viewed from the beach and from Mountain Street.
No parking spaces are provided for the Coast Inn and the required parking is 156 spaces. Fifty-eight are credited for the historic restoration and 98 are “grandfathered” (non-existent spaces the city gives credit for to acknowledge the previous uses). The purpose of incentives (in this case parking space credits) for historic properties is to encourage their preservation and restoration, not to promote intensification that damages the historic resource. This is what is happening at the Coast Inn.
On the Coast Liquor Store side of the property, Chris Abel’s early modern design is being restored, but again there is intensification—20 outdoor dining seats are added and the garages below are converted to retail. Parking for 11 cars, two motorcycles and eight bicycles is being provided, while 44 spaces are required. Why not use the garages below for parking instead of adding to the demand by converting them to retail?
The small Olympic cottage is supposed to be being restored with an open front porch along with supporting posts and wood railing, yet the drawings show the porch enclosed in large glass panels unrelated to the historic design.
The applicant’s parking and traffic consultant states, “There are ample on-street parking spaces within the area to accommodate the parking demand.” The neighbors and other nearby businesses may think otherwise since those spaces on Coast Highway are supposed to be available for many different businesses and for beach-goers. Councilmember Toni Iseman suggested that the project “is a vacuum cleaner that is going to suck up every parking place on the block and put a burden on the other businesses that are there.”
Why has this taken so long?—because the project proposal is an overreach, as reflected in the Planning Commission unanimous denial.
Mayor pro tem Rob Zur Schmiede pointed out that the opponents’ attorney, Tim Carlyle, had effectively outlined the points in a possible California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit, and that there are Coastal Commission concerns to take into account. “We’re doubling the activity level on this block . . . There’s no parking being provided . . . I think there’s an approvable project here, but it’s not the one we have us before us tonight. The details haven’t been sweated through . . . If we gave him an approval and sent him on his way tonight, I honestly don’t think we’re doing him any favors.”
The way to get an approvable project is to make a reasonable request that addresses the issues raised by the people impacted and provides long-term benefits to the city as a whole. Now that both sides have been heard, we have seen that we all have many goals in common—the health of the local economy, an attractive restoration of a long-time landmark, and mitigation of impacts on the neighborhoods.
It can be done. Get serious about moderating the project. Respect the residents’ desire to live serenely in their neighborhoods—to live without the worry and the nearly full-time obligation to research and dispute harmful proposals like this one that seem to come one after another.
Working together can work for everyone.
Ann Christoph is a landscape architect who has been involved with historic preservation both professionally and as a local advocate. She is a former mayor and city council member.