Car Wash or Villas for Newport Center?

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An artist rendering of proposed Newport Center Villas. — Illustration courtesy the city of Newport Beach
An artist rendering of proposed Newport Center Villas.
— Illustration courtesy the city of Newport Beach

Say goodbye to the 2,085 square-foot car wash and gas station that currently sits along Newport Center Drive in Fashion Island, and say hello to a seven-story, 49-unit condominium complex that might take its place.

The Newport Center Villas, developed and owned by Newport Center Anacapa Associates, LLC, had its initial review at a study session during the city’s planning commission meeting last week.

The project, which was inspired by Ralph Lauren’s 4th avenue flagship store in New York City, requires big changes and has elicited concern from planning commissioners and city residents who feel the Mitigated Negative Declaration, a study submitted to the city on behalf of the Newport Center Villas, is inadequate.

Robert L. Rush, a 29-year resident of Newport Beach, stated in an email to the city’s associate planner, Makana Nova, that “there are many specific problems and insufficiencies with the study, but the most important problem is that this level of environmental review is wholly insufficient for a project of this large of a change from the existing land use on the site.”

Among the concerns are the inconsistencies with the various policies and goals of the General Plan, the traffic and parking impacts from construction and the increase in real water usage and wastewater generation of the project, according to Rush.

The city’s website describes the General Plan’s function as a guide for the overall form of the city, while specific development standards are contained in the Zoning Code.

The Zoning Code regulates size and height of buildings, as well as specific types of uses and establishes the procedures for development approvals such as use permits, modifications, and variances. Modifications are minor deviations from Zoning Code standards such as setback encroachments and fences exceeding the height limit.”

An artist rendering aerial view of proposed Newport Center Villas. — Illustration courtesy the city of Newport Beach
An artist rendering aerial view of proposed Newport Center Villas.
— Illustration courtesy the city of Newport Beach

Right now the city’s General Plan for the property’s area needs to be amended from a regional commercial office use (CO-R) to a multi unit residential use (RM); and then change the zoning from its OR (Office Regional Commercial) status to residential living.

A planned community development plan also needs to be established, but to do that a waiver is require to allow a complex the size of the Villas to be constructed on a lot size a little over an acre instead of the minimum requirement of 10 acres.

Commissioner Chair Kory Kramer commented, “What is being asked for is a lot, not a simple project by any stretch. No doubt the design is handsome….and true that residential use is needed in Newport Center. But my issue is really with the California Environmental Quality Act, and the Mitigated Negative Declaration, the adequacy of that document.”

Debbie Stevens of Corona del Mar requested an extension of the public comment period for the MND in an email to Kim Brandt, the city’s community development director.

“At the heart of CEQA is the requirement for public participation and review. It is more than reasonable to request a minimum 30-day public review period to review an approximately 900 page document,” wrote Stevens.

The MND was released for a 20-day comment period from September 11 through October 1, the minimum allowable time.

Matthew McLarand, Senior Associate Partner of MVE + Partners, Inc. who presented the project plans at the study session, confirmed the necessity to follow the CEQA guidelines and stated they are continuing with the process. In his presentation he said the building does not impact any other views or horizon lines in the area, reduces traffic by 75 percent, and will provide dignified housing for the elderly.

The owner and developer of the property was represented at the study session by former Newport Beach mayors Dennis O’Neill and Tod Ridgeway to allow requests from the commissioners before the project is presented at a public hearing tentatively set for October 22.

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