The Bay Station post office may be moving, but the location will likely remain designated for public use, at least for now.
The post office at 191 Riverside Avenue, in the Mariner’s Mile area, will lose its lease before the end of the year. The owner applied to the city for a zoning change from public use to mixed use designation, which would allow for residential and/or commercial.
City council voted unanimously Tuesday to continue the item until the next meeting so staff can prepare a resolution with the appropriate findings for denial of the request.
Patrick Alford, the city’s planning manager, gave an overview of the resolution, which also included amendments to the general plan and coastal land use plan.
The general plan is supposed to reflect the resident’s vision for the city, said resident Jim Mosher, and this piece of property was designated as a public facility by the people of Newport Beach.
“Apparently some of them are happy that it is a post office,” Mosher said, and “apparently the landlord or property owner is not.”
Councilman Tony Petros agreed with Mosher, the lone speaker during public comment.
“Although there hasn’t been an outcry from the podium today, there have been dozens and dozens and dozens of electronic communications about this issue,” Petros said.
The general plan is an expression of the will of the people, he continued, to change it is a discretionary action and it’s up to the council to decide whether or not something better reflects the will of the people.
“So we have the discretion to now say whether or not it is in the interest of our community to make this change and I can tell you, as a representative of those who have made those comments in the second district who walk to this facility, I can’t make that conclusion,” Petros said.
Council members were also uneasy about approving the changes without any kind of idea about a potential project.
Although it included a zoning change, no development plan was proposed, Alford noted.
“It seems to me, that one of the frustrating things that I feel, is that we are being asked to expand the zoning on this piece of property without any idea of what kind of potential project they’re seeking,” said Mayor Rush Hill. “I would certainly feel a lot more comfortable if they were coming in with a project and asking for the appropriate, compatible zoning.”
The owner of the property currently has no designs or future plans for the building, he is only trying to rezone it from public facility to mixed-use facility, confirmed Michael McAllister from Gensler Architecture, the firm that submitted the form for rezoning the property.
While there might not be a project before the council, the fact that the applicant has hired an architectural firm to represent them says a lot, Petros commented.
“They didn’t hire a community outreach person, they didn’t hire a planner or a government relations person. They hired an architect, which tells me that there are plans afoot to make the change,” Petros said. “That speaks to the incremental piecemealing that’s going on before us to slide in something that doesn’t represent what the people want.”
Petros and other council members also emphasized that the city is not prompting the removal of the post office, but that it is coming from the property owner.
Councilman Keith Curry read a portion of a letter from Diana Alvarado, real estate and facilities implementation manager for the Pacific region for the United State Postal Service.
The current Newport Beach Bay Station Post Office is a leased building, Alvarado explained in her letter. The lease will end on Nov. 9.
“The landlord is unwilling to negotiate a new lease with the Postal Service,” she explained.
“I just want to make that clear that the city has absolutely nothing to do with the displacement of the post office at this site as many people, by their emails, have apparently been led to believe,” Curry said. “This is an issue between this particular landlord and his tenant, in this case the United States Postal Service, not the city of Newport Beach.”
Even with the council’s denial for the changes, that still doesn’t mean the post office will remain at that location, councilwoman Nancy Gardner pointed out.
“We can say it’s a public building, but we cannot tell him he has to renew the lease with the post office,” she said. “He could find, I suppose, some other public use for the property.”
She agreed with her fellow council members comments, but suggested giving the property owner some flexibility. If the post office found another suitable location, the council could look at the issue with “fresh eyes,” she said.
The Postal Service has begun looking for a suitable replacement facility, Alvarado wrote in her letter.
If there was a project that included the post office or there was a resolution for a post office at another site, that could be an amicable solution, Petros said.
“At this point, there’s just too much uncertainty,” he added.