Coastal OKs Land Use Change for Back Bay Landing

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A draft map of the proposed Back Bay Landing public spaces, including the private walkway that will be converted into the public promenade. — Photo courtesy the city of Newport Beach ©
A draft map of the proposed Back Bay Landing public spaces, including the private walkway that will be converted into the public promenade.
— Photo courtesy the city of Newport Beach ©

A 7-acre site along East Coast Highway got the nod of approval land use plan amendment from the California Coastal Commission last week, paving the way to develop a proposed mixed-use project on the bay front property.

The CCC voted 11-1 in support of the Newport Beach LUP change, moving the Back Bay Landing project forward. Commissioner Effie Turnbull-Sanders dissented.

The application for the actual project will still need to be reviewed and approved by the commission, as well as city council, before any development begins.

The site currently has a parking lot for RV and boat storage, a kayak and stand-up paddleboard business, and the iconic floating seafood market Pearson’s Port. The market and the adjacent mobile home park will stay put. A now private walkway around the homes would be open to the public and privacy landscaping will be installed.

The developer, Bayside Village Marina, LLC, hopes to build residential units, marine-related and visitor-serving commercial and recreational facilities, and a boat storage facility.

“It will bring a great deal of improvement to a degraded area and provide a lot of local opportunities for recreation and support local businesses,” Turnbull-Sanders said.

But it is a balancing act of protecting public access and the privacy of the adjacent homeowners, she added.

She expressed concerns about making a currently private walkway open to the public, especially since a lot of seniors live in the area. The public access to the beach and bay and the public promenade may bring in a lot of people into a small area and may become “overrun.”

“I’m just trying to avoid some kind of unintended consequence of our action,” Turnbull-Sanders said. “We’ve got to be sensitive to this specific site.”

The walkway goes right by their homes, directly in front of their living rooms, she noted. The landscape “buffer zone” may not be enough

“I’m not quite sure if we’re there yet, in terms of striking that right balance under the Coastal Act,” she said. “I’m having a real dilemma on how to move on this.”

The CCC staff disagreed.

“We do think we’ve struck the right balance here,” said CCC Orange County Deputy Director Sherilyn Sarb.

In support of the idea was Commissioner Mary Shallenberger.

“I think this plan is a huge asset for the area,” she said.

It will provide residential, recreational uses and public access, she confirmed.

Shallenberger supported the idea of making the walkway public.

“I thought it was fabulous that the public would now have access to an area on the waterfront that they don’t currently have,” she said.

Although she understood the concerns of the mobile home park residents, opening the path up to the public is the best thing to do, she said.

“I sympathize with those people who right now live right on the walkway,” Shallenberger said. “But I do think that it’s one of those things of [residents] having to put up with the public and sharing that wonderful waterfront and the view with the public.”

It’s not uncommon to have a public walkway along private homes with very little setback, she added.

“Obviously for those folks living there it won’t be as nice as having it their private view with no landscaping blocking it at all,” Shallenberger admitted, “but I do think that it is what the Coastal Act calls for, in terms of maximizing our public access.”

A handful of public speakers were, for the most part, in support of the plan. A few criticized the bulk and scale of the development, the 65-foot tower (which was removed from the plan), and the private walkway being converted to public access through the mobile home park.

A few of those concerns were voiced by Dick Hoaglin, chairman of the Bayside Improvement Committee, which represents the residents of the Bayside Village Homeowners Association.

Hoaglin, a 15-year resident of Bayside Village mobile home park, focused on the private roadway being converted into the public promenade.

There is an “overabundance” of access to the Back Bay, he noted. There already is more than adequate access nearby, Hoaglin argued as he named off numerous access points throughout the city.

The walkway has essentially been the residents’ front yard since the 1960’s, Hoaglin said. Opening it up as a public walkway will create several issues related to privacy, parking, cost, and aesthetics, he said.

“Is the Back Bay roadway really a practical option?” Hoaglin questioned.

Another Bayside Village resident, Marty Clark, was on the other side of the path, supporting the plan.

She and her husband started visiting the area in 1985 and have watched the RV and boat storage yard “decline into disrepair,” she said.

“It unfortunately looks like a junkyard,” Clark said.

It’s an eyesore, agreed another resident.

Back Bay Landing will benefit the community and improve the area, Clark noted.

It would benefit residents, boaters and visitors, agreed Councilman Ed Selich in a video. The council unanimously supported the project in February 2014 as an opportunity to “redevelop and re-activate an underutilized bayfront site,” he said.

The city supports the CCC staff modifications, said Community Development Director Kimberly Brandt.

Commission staff recommended that the land-use be changed to mixed-use water-related, instead of the originally requested mixed-use horizontal. The water-related designation would preserve the existing priority coastal dependent and related uses, and allow residential on upper floors only. The residential units would also be pushed back from the bayfront, allowing for better public access.

Per CCC staff’s recommendation, the commission denied the applicant’s request for a 65-foot public viewing tower at the site, which would have been an exception to the city’s 35-foot height limitation.

Development in the area is generally low-lying to preserve the scenic bay environment, said Karl Schwing, CCC Coastal Program Manager in the south coast district.

“A 65-foot tower, in staff’s view, would have significant adverse impacts on visual resources and community character,” Schwing noted.

Several public speakers agreed, one calling it “a structure in search of a purpose.”

The developers are on board with the removal of the 65-foot tower, as well as the CCC’s other modifications.

They are excited to move into the next phase of the process and work with city and CCC staff and the community, said Back Bay Landing project manager Gordon Craig, representing the property owner.

“We look forward to… making Back Bay Landing a reality and a sense of place with new public access and great public uses,” Craig said.


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