Potential for Lower Castaways Park

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A view of the Lower Castaways Park property.  — Photo by Christopher Trela ©
A view of the Lower Castaways Park property.
— Photo by Christopher Trela ©

Residents who wonder what’s going on with the patch of land at the corner of Dover Drive and West Coast Highway may soon have an answer – although ideas are still very much up in the air.

Discussions about what to do with Lower Castaways Park have been happening for several years. In 2014, plans were conceptually designed, vetted by several city committees and commissions, and then the project was put on hold. But the idea was brought up again recently.

At the Jan. 14 Newport Beach City Council planning session Public Works Director Dave Webb briefly mentioned the property as a possible project for the next fiscal year.

“There’s probably some discussion you might want to have on Lower Castaways to see where you want to go in the future,” Webb told the Council at the meeting last month.

Staff provided several potential routes for the park at the January meeting, including: Leave as-is for the near future (gravel parking area, hand launch and potable restrooms); upgrade to a more permanent passive park (add bike node, improve visibility from street, better define access entry route, etc.); pursue public-private partnership for park development (rowing, bicycling, water based activity center); or plan, fund, build fully improved active park.

Council members didn’t discuss or instruct staff on Lower Castaways at the January meeting so there isn’t a status update or direction for any kind of possible project at this point, Webb explained this week.

City staff may re-ask the question to Council and the community at the upcoming study session on Feb. 14, when they will be discussing the city’s Facility Financing Plan, which includes the Lower Castaways project, Webb noted. Staff will be looking for any direction on any changes, additions or deletions for anything on the FFP.

Mayor Pro Tem Marshall “Duffy” Duffield, whose district includes Lower Castaways, said there is potential for that property.

“The prospects for this concept are wonderful,” he said.

Any idea for it right now is “in its infancy,” Duffield said. The goal would be to eventually create an area of public use without imposing any kind of cost to the taxpayers, he explained.

Private funds could be involved in developing it and it could be a good public-private venture, Duffield said. He emphasized that it is still very early in the idea phase.

They have to carefully consider all the stakeholders involved, including the California Coastal Commission and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The property does have quite the history.

According to the city’s Capital Improvement Program project log, a budget of $300,000 was estimated for Lower Castaways Park in July 2014. In fall of that same year the design process began.

At a March 12, 2014, Harbor Commission meeting conceptual plans were presented.

It was a great effort and a lot of good ideas were raised, Harbor Resources Chris Miller said on Thursday.

The preliminary plans included 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.”

Nothing was “written in stone” at that time and ideas that were suggested included 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.

A staircase connecting lower to upper Castaways was a hot topic at the time. 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. Public speakers also had concerns about the staircase and wanted it to retain the natural feel and appropriately fit in with Upper Castaways Park.

The CIP log notes that the project was put on hold on Dec. 18, 2014. The City Council wasn’t ready to move forward with a major project on that property just yet, Miller explained.

But there were a few minor improvements the following year. In the Oct. 9, 2015 newsletter from City Manager Dave Kiff, he explains that “Lower Castaways is now on the map.”

The update explained that the south launch area now included a park bench, an open area for hand-launching vessels and access to the harbor. Portable restrooms were also installed. Kiff encouraged residents to stop by to launch their kayak, paddle board, or other small hand-launch vessel.

There are no updates in the project log until last year when it went on “indefinite hold” on March 31.

A new item in the CIP log states that, as of 2016, Lower Castaways Park is in the planning phase.

Some – or none – of the ideas raised in 2014 may be used as they possibly approach the project again, Miller noted. They need direction from City Council before moving forward in any direction, he said.

Although it provides no details, the listing does describe the project: “The existing Lower Castaways public property consists of a vacant lot with dirt and gravel areas. This project provides for a small path and a hand launch pier.”

And, as others have put it, loads of potential.

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