An AutoNation Porsche dealership won’t be parking itself along W. Coast Highway – at least for now – after the Newport Beach Planning Commission rejected the project last week.
Commissioners voted 5-1 on Oct. 6 to deny AutoNation Porsche Newport Beach project proposed for the Mariners’ Mile area, at 320-600 W. Coast Highway. Chairman Kory Kramer dissented and Commissioner Raymond Lawler was absent.
AutoNation plans to move on to the City Council to appeal the decision, said Shawna Schaffner, CAA Planning, representing the applicant.
The room was full for about two hours as staff and the applicant made presentations, and commissioners and the public commented on the project.
A number of people commented during public comment, mostly opposed to AutoNation. A petition with hundreds of signatures opposing AutoNation has also been circulated. There was some applause from the audience after the vote.
The project proposed the construction and operation of a 38,473-square-foot, 35-foot tall, automobile sales and service facility (dealership) including a showroom, outdoor vehicle display areas, offices, service facility, vehicle inventory storage and employee parking on the roof of the building. It would consolidate 11 existing lots creating one 1.64 acre lot.
Several of the Commissioners said they were struggling with the project. A few commended AutoNation for making the changes they did and the effort they have made on their part. Several commented and raised concerns about the height, overall size, service center, traffic, enforcement of the conditions, the history of violations by AutoNation, among other issues.
Several commissioners noted that AutoNation has not been responsible or respectful of the neighborhood in the past.
“The applicant has been a poor steward of this community,” Commissioner Erik Weigland said.
There are a number of other auto dealerships along Coast Highway, but none include a service center, Commissioner Bill Dunlap pointed out. A downsized project with only a sales center would work better in that location, he added.
“When we intensify the use on the Coast Highway, are we contributing to the quality of life or are we not?” Dunlap said. “That’s my issue.”
Kramer was “disappointed” in his fellow commissioners’ comments. He emphasized the importance of property rights, upholding the general plan and zoning code, and their duty as planning commissioners.
It’s a tough site, Kramer said, which is why it’s taken so long for a viable project to create a design for that location.
He complimented the design and said the applicant isn’t asking for anything “beyond the ordinary,” Kramer said.
There are no general plan amendments, zoning code changes, or variances, and it fits in with the vision of the community, Kramer pointed out. It also includes several enhancements for the community, he added.
Considering all of that, it’s hard to find a reason why it should not be approved, Kramer said.
“I think this project has a lot of positive attributes to it,” Kramer said.
The AutoNation project was first considered at the August 18 Planning Commission meeting. It was tabled to allow time for the applicant to consider architectural design changes, possibly covering rooftop parking, and to allow for additional public outreach.
Some of the main concerns raised at previous community meetings and last week’s Planning Commission meeting include car carriers parking and unloading on the street, test drive routes going into neighborhoods, and previous violations by AutoNation.
Schaffner addressed several of the concerns during her presentation.
Under the proposed plan, car carriers will be able to pull directly onto the site to unload outside the path of travel and fire lane, Schaffner explained.
“We have taken this condition very seriously,” she said.
This is an issue with the heavily impacted Newport Auto Center, which includes three dealerships on site. There have been repeated use permit violations at the location, mostly associated with car carriers parking in the public right-of-way, she admitted.
“We need this project in order to move Porsche off of this site,” which would allow Newport Auto Center be reconfigured with just the two dealerships, she said.
The test drive route would head west on Coast Highway, make a u-turn at Brookhurst Street and head back to the property. There would be approximately 10 test drives on a busy Saturday and another 10 related to service issues, Schaffner explained.
They have heard that it is a big concern of residents about test drives on Cliff Drive and other nearby residential streets, she said. Schaffner pointed out the condition of approval that banned driving on residential roads.
“Test drives are prohibited in residential streets, end of story,” Schaffner said.
There has also been some concern over violations of the existing use permit, Schaffner pointed out. She suggested they return to the Planning Commission six months to one year after opening for a monitoring report to ensure that they are complying with the conditions of approval.
“We would very much like to bring this back after we are in operation and prove that we can comply with these conditions,” Schaffner said. “We get that AutoNation right now is being a bad neighbor and we want to do this project so we can improve the existing site, but also so we can be held accountable with the new site.”
Schaffner also spoke about noise, light, hours, resident concerns, general plan and zoning, Mariners’ Mile design framework, building height, road widening and improvements, and more.
They have tried to address the residents’ concerns, Schaffner said.
Not all local residents disagree with the project, said Bayshore resident Brandon Dederich. He has spoken with several of his neighbors, some are indifferent and some support the project.
“It fits right in,” Dederich said.
But most speakers disagreed, saying it isn’t appropriate for the location. Opponents also commented on safety, traffic flow, size is too big, removing the service center, and more.
Consider the operator, said Kings Road resident Todd Otti. They haven’t been a good neighbor, the city shouldn’t allow it to be built and then just wait and see if they improve, he commented. It’s not fair to the neighbors, he added.
“It all boils down to the operator and who is actually behind the wheel, steering that ship,” he said.