Museum House Gets Newport Beach City Council Approval

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Orange County Museum of Art building. — Photo by David Eppstein ©
Orange County Museum of Art building.
— Photo by David Eppstein ©

Newport Beach City Council approved the controversial 25-story, 100-unit condominium tower known as Museum House in Newport Center on Tuesday.

After more than three hours of discussion between city staff, council members, project proponents, and members of the public, Council voted 6-1 in favor of the residential project. Councilman Tony Petros dissented.

“I am confident this building will become a centerpiece for Newport Beach,” said Mayor Diane Dixon.

It’s a quality designed building and site plan, Councilman Ed Selich agreed.

Petros explained his no vote by saying he had to vote with the will of the people.

About 70 percent of the voting public said no to Measure Y, and that’s a clear statement from the residents that they don’t want more development in this area, Petros said.

Although he agrees with the findings of the EIR, appreciates the architecture of the building, and admires the work the Related California does, he has to listen to the public.

“I have to put myself aside and really represent those that put me here,” Petros said. “As much as I like the shiny object that’s before me… My personal opinion in this has to be subordinated to the will of the people…  I just can’t support the project.”

Many people spoke during public comment that objected to the project and agreed with Petros that the vote against Measure Y shows that most people are against more development in the area.

Others mentioned a petition against Museum House had already received more than 1,800 signatures.

Opponents argued that it wasn’t an appropriate location, it would increase traffic, and it’s too dense.

“It’s “absurd” to say that it would not create more traffic problems, said Big Canyon resident Lynn Swain.  

People objecting to it commented that the area is already built out to the maximum and this project will set a precedent for future projects. They likened it to Century City or Miami Beach.

“Is this the direction that we really want Newport Beach to continue in?” opponent and longtime resident Drew Lawler asked.

In the end, the majority of Council members thought that approving Museum House was the right move.

The EIR has stated that it has no long term environmental impacts, no adverse water impacts, and no shadow or view blockages, Selich noted.

There will also be no traffic impacts, Selich emphasized. It will blend in to the surrounding landscape, he noted.

“Just because people think there are going to be traffic impacts doesn’t make it so,” Selich said.

Independent experts do careful analysis before making their findings, he explained.

The project is expected to bring in about $22 million in revenue for the city, supporters pointed out.

There are good arguments on both sides, Curry said. But in the end the good outweighs the bad, he said, although he would like to see it go to a citywide vote, he added. 

Most of the opponents also asked for the project to go to a public vote. If the developer truly has the support of the community, they would be on board with that idea, several speakers noted.

“You may stand with the developers or you may stand with the residents, but on this issue you may not stand with both,” said resident Susan Skinner. “This is our tipping point. This is our line in the sand.”

An artist rendering of Museum House. — Courtesy Related California Urban Housing LLC ©
An artist rendering of Museum House.
— Courtesy Related California Urban Housing LLC ©

There is already an effort to prepare a referendum petition, which would force the project into a citywide vote, Skinner said. And already there is an effort by council to thwart the referendum, she added. By pushing the hearing from a week earlier in November to Tuesday, the 30-day time period to collected the required 8,000 votes now overlaps with Christmas.

Council members have also asked for so many documents to be included that the typically 50-page petition will now be thousands of pages, Skinner explained.

Selich later suggested including the entire EIR and the minutes from the past Planning Commission meetings

There was some disagreement about whether or not Selich’s suggestions were too burdensome and eventually the Council removed the addition of the minutes, but kept the EIR documents to be included with the petition.

Curry emphasized the people’s right to petition. Adding all the extra documents to the petition, enough to make it the size of a phone book, is an effort to suppress the people’s right to petition their government. And that is wrong, he stated.

“You can be for this project, you can be against this project, but win fairly, don’t win by cheating,” Curry said. “This entire project has been profoundly disappointing.”

Another suggestion came from Dixon, who wanted to designate specific amounts of the developer fees on certain future projects, but other Council members were unsure if that was too restrictive. They ultimately added a section explaining that future councils can change those designations without developer approval.

Something both sides seemed to agree on is that it’s a beautiful building, although they differed on whether it belongs in Newport Beach or not.

Longtime Newport Beach resident Pat Fusco supported the project for three reasons: Change, trends and pride.

This is a “drop dead gorgeous building,” that all the residents can be proud of, he said.

“You’ll drive by it every day and smile,” Fusco said.

Moving back to walkable city centers is a trend worldwide, he added. And change is inevitable, it’s better to accept it and adapt.

“This project is a good change for Newport Beach,” Fusco said.

Other supporters of Museum House commented that this type of project is needed in Newport and that it fits into the proposed location.

Linda Isle resident Tom Tucker and his wife have lived in Newport Beach for 20 years and want to continue to live in Newport in their retirement years, he said.

There should be a high-rise luxury living in Newport Beach.

It’s the “right spot” for this “one-of-a-kind” project,” he said.

The city is full of people who want this kind of high-end living, including himself, Roger Davidson said.

“I’m going to be first in line,” he said.

Other proponents emphasized that the Environmental Impact Report found no to insignificant impacts on traffic, water or views.

They also noted that the museum’s new location would be a great benefit for the greater Orange County community and that they need a bigger, better space.

“This museum deserves to be there,” Davidson said. “It will be a gift to the whole county.”

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