There are a concerns and a lot of ideas regarding the plan to develop Lower Castaways, as the Harbor Commission learned Wednesday night during a conceptual review.
The parcel is one of the few remaining “jewels” in Newport Beach, said Harbor Commissioner David Girling who made the presentation to his fellow commissioners, city staff and residents.
“We’ve tried to be respectful, thoughtful and measured in how we have approached our discovery process thus far,” he said.
Girling presented on behalf of the subcommittee tasked with studying the site for development. The goal was to gather feedback before presenting to the Tidelands, and Parks, Beaches and Recreation committees in a few weeks.
Nothing is written in stone and everything is on the table, he said.
Ideas that have been suggested include a biking and hiking hub, boat launch, public dock or pier, education and restoration center, marine recycling center/marine waste disposal facility, water taxi base, community garden and more.
It could also be a multi-use site incorporating many of the suggested ideas, he added.
“It’s such a big parcel that many people suggested we could do many things,” Girling said. “We could have a recreational component, we could have an educational component. There could be lots of things put in there together in a multi-use site.”
The preliminary plans include a minimalist approach for a “multi-use, recreational hub incorporating biking, hiking and boating activities along with 85-90 parking spaces, public restrooms and a stairway connecting to the Upper Castaways,” he explained.
The staircase connecting lower to upper Castaways could be a place where people enjoy the view, exercise and just hang out, Girling said.
A few commissioners were concerned that the staircase would not fit with the natural feel of Upper Castaways, while others thought it would be a popular focal point of the park .
Resident Jim Mosher also had concerns about the staircase and emphasized that Lower Castaways should retain the natural environment.
He also questioned whether palm trees were the most appropriate type of tree to line the staircase.
“This just doesn’t fit, to me, at all with the rest of Upper Castaways Park,” he said.
The general consensus among the commissioners was to keep the natural feel.
The main issue is that Lower Castaways is in a Marine Protected Area, Girling said, which the California Department of Fish and Wildlife manages.
“What that means, is that…below the mean tide line, you basically can’t do anything,” he explained.
Nothing new can be built that might kill any wildlife or organisms.
“In doing anything below the mean tide line would kill organisms or kill fish and wildlife, and thus we are not able to do anything,” Girling said. But, he continued, the DFW has noted that if the city appears before them and pleads their case, emphasizing that the project is recreation and conservation oriented, they might be able to have their case considered and get a waiver.
It’s key to approach Fish and Wildlife with the project and try to get them to consider it in a positive way, he added, because when the city applies for a permit from the California Coastal Commission they will check with DFW before making a decision.
Access is another challenge, he said, since there is just one driveway that only allows entering/exiting from/into northbound traffic on Dover Drive.
“It does limit what we can potentially do with this parcel,” Girling said.
A boat launch, for example, would be limited because trailers would have a difficult time maneuvering in and out of the site.
The site would also need to be rezoned, Girling said, but that shouldn’t be a problem.
It was deeded to the city from the Irvine company in exchange for development rights in Newport Center in 2008.
The deed included easements and restrictions on use, including prohibiting a private commercial marina. It also requires that the Irvine Company have the opportunity to review and comment on any proposed improvements to the site.