The Lower Castaways project has made the rounds of presentations and will soon be before city council, officials announced during the LC Ad Hoc Committee meeting Wednesday.
The project is described as a “recreational hub” for biking, hiking, and human-powered boating activities with a historical element, parking, pubic restrooms and a stairway connecting to Upper Castaways.
“We’ve completed the road show,” said Harbor Commissioner David Girling, who is heading up the committee for the project.
They’ve presented the project to Harbor, Tidelands, and Parks, Beaches and Recreation commissions, he explained.
The feedback from the commissioners has been “overwhelmingly positive,” Girling added.
Recreation and Senior Services Director Laura Detweiler recapped concerns raised by PBR, including parking.
“We want to make sure that we’re maximizing the land as best as we possibly can for recreational uses and not a destination parking lot where people are going to come from all over and park for the day,” Detweiler said.
They also want to avoid having people park and then cross the street, the group agreed.
Girling also mentioned that he and city Harbor Resources Manager Chris Miller spoke in front of the state Fish and Game Commission during the April 16 meeting.
“It was a very, very productive trip,” Girling said
They spoke at the meeting because Lower Castaways is in a Marine Protected Area and the proposed plan would require a variance to the existing policies as it relates to the new development below the mean tide line in an MPA.
Girling asked for guidance on incorporating a “minimal water element” into the development of the project.
The hope is that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will revisit the MPA designation of Lower Castaways and adjust the boundary.
That may prove to be difficult, so may it might be a better idea to seek an exception to the “no new structures” rule, Girling said Wednesday.
“So maybe there’s some leeway, especially given what we’re proposing is in line with what they’re trying to do ” Girling noted.
The project would keep the recreational land use designation, Miller pointed out during the Fish and Game meeting. There is no intention of making it a commercial marina, he added. There would be some minor zoning updates.
It is the last waterfront property owned by the city, Girling explained.
“We have endeavored to be as deliberate, considerate and measured in our efforts to develop a conceptual development plan for the Lower Castaways,” Girling told the commissioners.
Commissioner Richard Rogers is from Newport Beach, Girling pointed out to the committee on Wednesday, so that may help the city’s case. On the other hand, Rogers did spearhead the development of the MPA districts, Girling noted, so he may be somewhat rigid on that front.
“I think we have an ‘in’ to somebody who really has an affinity and close tie to Newport Beach,” Miller said. But, “the odds of changing the boundary are pretty slim.”
“Be that as it may, there’s still that light at the end of the tunnel,” he added.
Although they were only able to speak for three minutes each at the Department of Fish and Wildlife commission meeting, both Girling and Miller agreed that it was very productive and helped their case.
“I think we’ve set ourselves up as best as we can to get fair consideration and somewhat quick consideration for something that could take years,” Girling said.
An existing bulkhead may also give some leeway.
The existing 300-foot long bulkhead is in a “decayed state,” Miller said during the Commission meeting in April, and might need to be improved upon or rebuilt.
The city is allowed to maintain the existing bulkhead under the MPA rules, said DFW commissioner Sonke Mastrup said.
“We’re not sure where it’s going to lead, but it is clear that getting something new will be very difficult,” Girling said. “But, given that we have a bulkhead that needs some repair, there may be some leeway to add something to that bulkhead.”
On Wednesday, Miller also reminded the group that this is just the marine component of the project and that shouldn’t discourage the rest of the committee from working on the actual park. They can be worked on separately, he said.
“It’d be nice if they could both be worked on together, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to,” he said.
They’ve also contacted Steve Wertz, DFW Senior Environmental Scientist Supervisor for the MPA Project, to work with on the state level and move the Lower Castaways project along.
Now, the plan needs to be “fine tuned,” Girling said before they present to the council.
The project will likely be presented to the council during a study session on June 10. There will also be more discussion at the next Harbor Commission meeting.