A new public dock and an expanded Balboa Marina may be in the future for Newport Harbor.
The Planning Commission held a study session last week on the Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Balboa Marina West project, located at 151 and 201 E. Coast Highway.
The project would expand the Balboa Marina with 24 new private slips and relocate four and build eight new public slips for a new public dock.
It would also include construction of a 19,400 square feet marine commercial building for a yacht brokerage office, public restrooms and a possibly a restaurant.
Although they have not definitely determined what to do with the building yet, said Dan Miller, Senior Vice President of entitlement and public affairs for the Irvine Company.
“We’re working at a conceptual level at this point,” said Planning Program Manager Patrick Alford.
The process is also a bit different for this particular project, he said.
Last week the commission discussed the MND for the project, not the actual project.
Normally, the commission would review an environmental document and the project at the same, Alford explained. In this case, the commission reviewed the MND before receiving the application for the actual project, he noted.
“This is a little unusual,” Alford said.
The project also has two components: A waterside component, which is under the purview of the Harbor Resources Manager; and a landside that the Planning Commission will see at a later date.
Then the two components of the project will be combined into one application to the California Coastal Commission for a permit.
Randy Nichols, senior project manager with the city’s environmental consultant, TNB Planning, prepared the initial study and the draft MND.
“The entire initial study is based on some very definite concepts of how this project would be built,” Nichols said.
It doesn’t have detailed floor plans and final decisions about uses within the building have not been made, he added, however it’s a pretty thorough analysis of a project concept.
Nichols discussed a few specific environmental factors with commissioners.
Air quality and traffic were both found to have less than a significant impact, he said.
Aesthetics and noise were to have a less than a significant impact with mitigation.
For example, the traffic noise would increase less than one decibel, he stated.
There are restrictions on construction activity, he continued, like allowable hours and days of operation.
There will be some times during the pile-driving process that will create some loud noises, he said, that’s unavoidable. Certain techniques will be utilized to help lessen the noise, he added.
Commissioner Bradley Hillgren asked if there were any conflicts or issues because it’s a joint application between the city and the Irvine Company
The city component is the new public dock, Alford explained.
“This is something that the city has long sought and it solves some problems associated with the existing marina,” Alford said.
It’s not necessarily uncommon for the city to be an applicant on a project where there is an ownership interest, another city staffer added. It’s been done before and there isn’t a conflict, she noted.
In this particular instance, the city currently has no ownership interest, Hillgren noted.
But the city does have an interest in a new public block, staff noted.
Several years ago, when the Irvine Company rebuilt their marina, the Harbor Commission recommended that there be some public slips available, explained Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller.
Now, he continued, they’re looking to relocate those slips because it is quite a burden to manage them.
On a larger scale, the Harbor Commission has a broader, over-reaching goal of promoting and installing more public piers in the harbor, he said.
“The idea, through many subcommittee meetings and such over the years, was ‘Why don’t we create a joint project that implements phase two of the Irvine Company’s goals for expanding the marina to its near original capacity and at the same time solving the public dock problem?’” Chris Miller clarified.
Also, that area of the harbor is underserved, he noted.
Going “hand in hand” through the process and helping solve each other’s goals seemed like an excellent partnership, he said.
The Planning Commission will review the project during a hearing tentatively scheduled for Oct. 2.