Museum House Needs a Greenlight Vote

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The Museum House, a 26-story, 100-unit high-rise condo proposed for Newport Center, doesn’t just deserve a Greenlight vote. It requires a Greenlight vote. The city disagrees.

In 2000, the residents of our city approved a smart growth initiative that requires the city to obtain voter approval before approving projects of a certain size.

The General Plan is like the blueprint of the city and assigns development rights to property. Greenlight protects all existing property rights in the General Plan, but requires a vote for developments that will exceed their General Plan entitlements by a set amount.

To ask for increased entitlements, a developer submits a General Plan Amendment. If that amendment, combined with other amendments approved over the previous 10 years, adds more than 100 dwelling units, 40,000 sq. ft. of non-residential development or 100 peak hour traffic trips to the General Plan within a set area, the voters get to decide.

The actual language of Greenlight requires a comparison of what is allowed in the General Plan versus what will be allowed after the amendment. It is this language that will dictate a vote on The Museum House.

The General Plan approved by voters in 2006 added 450 dwelling units to Newport Center. When The Irvine Company decided in 2012 to tear down the commercial property in the San Joaquin Plaza and build 524 apartment homes, they used 445 of the units approved by voters in 2006 and convinced the Newport Beach Planning Division to augment that by converting entitlements for 79 unbuilt hotel rooms into dwelling units, which were then assigned to San Joaquin Plaza. This was done even though multiple zoning laws appear to prohibit this.

And they didn’t do a General Plan Amendment. If they had done a General Plan Amendment, the 79 new dwelling units would clearly have counted towards the 10-year Greenlight quota for Newport Center.

The city now claims that because of their improper machinations in 2012 they don’t ever have to count the 79 homes added then, leaving the full 10-year Greenlight quota of 100 units available for The Museum House (whose largest condos will be 4,900 sq. ft.).

But 79 plus 100 new homes added since 2006 is a total of 179 new homes, which is well over the limit of 100 that triggers Greenlight. Thus, a vote is required.

The residents of Newport Beach deserve transparency from the Planning Division, but all we are getting is obfuscation. We should not have to depend on dedicated citizens to monitor our Planning Division nor should we have to debate the requirement for a mandated vote.

For once, can’t we please have a city dedicated to the quality of life of the residents instead of the desires of developers?

Susan Skinner

Newport Beach

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