Historic Balboa Theater Plans Postponed

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An artist’s rendering of The LAB’s vision for the Balboa Theater.
— Photo courtesy of the city of Newport Beach ©

The Newport Beach Planning Commission was scheduled to hold a public hearing last week on the planned renovations for the 90-year-old Balboa Theater, but the item was unexpectedly removed from the agenda.

Discussion of the proposal, submitted by the Balboa Theater Company, LLC, (the entity of LAB Holdings, LLC, that bought the theater from the city in 2016), was continued to an unspecified future date.

“It needs a little bit of additional work,” Deputy Community Development Director Jim Campbell told the Commission during the Jan. 18 meeting, referring to the staff report.

One member of the public attempted to share thoughts on the project before the item was removed and at least two others submitted written comments, which were included in the staff report.

Since it opened in 1928, the theater at 707 East Balboa Blvd. on the Balboa Peninsula has served as a vaudeville house, movie theater, and a Pussycat theater. It was a revival house showing classic films when it closed in 1992.

In 1998, the city purchased the property with Community Development Block Grant funds and leased it to the Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation until 2015. LAB Holdings bought the property from the city in 2016.

Public opposition to the proposed height increase of the building may be behind the continuance.

The Balboa Theater, at 32 feet 3 inches, already exceeds the base height limit of 26 feet in the coastal zone.

The developer proposes additional height with a glass guardrail for the rooftop deck at approximately 36 feet, a steel canopy cover at approximately 43 feet, 6 inches, and an elevator shaft at approximately 47 feet, 4 inches, according to the staff report.

“The increased height…will not impact public views,” reads the staff report. “There are currently no public views through or across the subject property due to the existing building height and the Balboa Inn to the south. Furthermore, the theater site is not located near or adjacent to a coastal view road or any coastal viewpoint, as designated in the Local Coastal Program.”

Plans for a rooftop deck on the property have been approved in the past, though never built.

In 2006, The Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation secured a Coastal Development Permit from the California Coastal Commission for their proposed renovations, which included a rooftop deck. Approvals for that particular project have since expired.

Resident Dorothy Kraus, whose written comments were included in the staff report, is against the project in its current form.

“I am writing to convey my utter sense of disbelief that once again staff is promoting another height exception and that it’s in the coastal zone,” her letter reads. “The city is perpetuating a pattern of promoting excessive heights in Newport Beach creating a genuine sense of alarm in the public realm. The city is creating the ‘Great Wall of Newport Beach’ along our coastline, one height exception at a time. Please deny the applicant’s height exception request or request that the proposal be redesigned to eliminate the rooftop deck.”

It is unknown when the Balboa Theater renovation plans will return to the Planning Commission.

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