Council continues review of Mariners’ Mile mixed-use project


After more than two hours of discussions and comments from more than a dozen concerned residents this week, City Council decided to continue a proposed mixed-use project on Mariners’ Mile.

Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday, April 27, to continue the review of a mixed-use project at 2510 West Coast Highway until the second meeting in May. Mayor Pro Tem Kevin Muldoon dissented, and council members Marshall “Duffy” Duffield and Noah Blom recused themselves.

Mayor Brad Avery called for review of the Planning Commission’s Feb. 18 approval of the development, which consists of 35 residential dwelling units, including three affordable housing units, and an 11,266-square-foot boutique auto showroom on a 0.98-acre lot near Avon Street and PCH on Mariners’ Mile. The property is currently developed with a vacant marine sales use.

During public comment, neighbors were concerned primarily about the view impact from the proposed project and the aesthetically incompatible design of the building for the Mariners’ Mile neighborhood.

“The residents that have spoken tonight have hopes and aspirations for a Mariners’ Mile that sort of meets ‘the dream,’ if you will, and the dream isn’t perfect, but it is going to get built,” Avery said. “This building would be fine if it was somewhere else [in Newport Beach].”

While this proposed project may not block the bay view, it will cover the nautical businesses and buildings on Mariners’ Mile, which people like to see, Avery said. It may not completely ruin the view, but it changes the landscape in a not so pleasant way.

“It’s the totality of the project that’s the problem here, in my view,” Avery said. “This is important because it really is a part of what happens next in Mariners’ Mile.”

A lot of the discussion revolved around the subjective standards within city code and conducting an objective analysis on development projects accordingly.

Considering how projects can objectively comply with city code, but subjectively not fit in aesthetically or be a good fit for the neighborhood, Avery said some mistakes may have been made. The city may have unwittingly encouraged projects that ultimately aren’t a good fit, he said.

Avery would like to see better partnerships between the community and developers. There are buildings that can work for both sides that residents can be proud of and don’t infringe on property rights, he said.

“We could do a better job from the very beginning of the planning process,” Avery said.

Sean Matsler with Cox, Castle & Nicholson, representing the applicant, called the architectural style “California coastal modern.” They worked on the project with the idea of being consistent with the city code, he said.

“We tried to stay within the box that the city has approved for this property,” Matsler said. 

Property owner Mark Moshayedi said they have been working with city staff for about two years on redeveloping the space. They came up with a concept first and asked about the parking requirements and necessary studies.

The rules are the rules, he said, and as a developer, he tried to be consistent with what was required. They couldn’t build a community-like setting, he said, because of the requirements for the amount of commercial space needed to qualify for the residential density bonus designation. The square footage requirements, setback rules and the fact that it’s zoned for mixed-use determine the type of project, he said.

“This is what you end up with when you set the rules the way you’ve set up the rules,” Moshayedi said. “All we’ve tried to do, as a developer, is to follow the rules that are set by the city of Newport Beach.”

They’ve revised the project a few times, Matsler said, including bringing down the height of the residential component to 35 feet and reducing the height of the vegetation on PCH. To respect the views from John Wayne Park, they also brought the commercial structure down by more than five feet, to about 25 feet, Matsler said. The building can’t be lowered more, he said.

The determination of whether or not the height blocks views that would be protected under city policy is also subjective. 

“Applicable public view protection policies are subjective, and they do not provide any objective standard as to when development may be contrary to the policy,” staff notes in the report. “The question rests in the degree to which the view is altered or blocked.”

View simulations of the project as seen from John Wayne Park

Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis said that the findings of proposed projects, and whether or not they are compliant with city code or other regulations, is, in itself, somewhat subjective. It goes through multiple staffers for review, he said, before making their recommendation.

“We go through this process, it is subjective from a staff level,” Jurjis said. 

But they propose all of the information to the Planning Commission (or other ruling body or board), and they ultimately decide.

The Planning Commission doesn’t typically ask about the aesthetics, complementary aspects, or architectural design, noted Councilmember Diane Dixon. How it’s looked at by city staff and the council is subjective, she pointed out.

“So, I can have the opinion that I don’t feel that it complies with our municipal code and an important part of our community that we call, as one [public speaker] said, Mariners’ Mile, not ‘Modern Mile,’” Dixon said. “I think it needs a lot of work. I, frankly, do not support the project as it is currently designed.”

Whether or not it’s an improvement on the current space, as Matsler suggested, is also subjective, Dixon said. 

“I’m trying to understand the intent of the architectural design not to be compatible with Mariners’ village,” or the concept of pedestrian access and walkability of a village, as described in the general plan, Dixon said. Also, “I really don’t see the nautical or even contemporary nautical flavor of the design.”

Several members of the Coalition to Protect Mariners’ Mile spoke during public comment, mentioning a number of concerns, including parking issues, the strict conditions of the commercial space (the “white elephant” of the area, which will become a “straight jacket” for future planning), the lack of independence of the commercial building, traffic and safety concerns (particularly on Avon Street) and the view impact.

The project, as proposed, presents a number of issues, said Deborah Rosenthal, an attorney for the Coalition.

“This is asking for a problem,” Rosenthal said. “It’s really creating a problem, both for the residential project, which could very well wind up with a vacant building in front because of the straight jacket on the conditions. And also a problem on the Mariners’ Mile streetscape, which I know is highly prized by the city and is part of an important visioning process.”

Residents voiced concern that the proposed project would be incompatible for the Mariners’ Mile neighborhood

Residents also complained that the modern, boxy architectural style doesn’t fit in with the neighborhood. There is no nautical element to the project, several speakers noted, which doesn’t tie into the theme along Mariners’ Mile.

Longtime resident and business owner Kathy Shaw said the proposed project is incompatible with the maritime-themed area. The state is overriding local standards and causing projects like this to come forward, which don’t maintain the charm and character of the village, she said.

The proposed project will create a burden to the area, in terms of parking, safety and traffic, as well as be a “radical departure” from the master plan, Shaw said. She has concern that this could set a precedent for future Mariners’ Mile projects. As others suggested, it can be redesigned to work better for everyone.

“The proposed property is an uninspired box, too big, too dense for the area and far from timeless. The proposed structure has zero maritime appeal and absolutely nothing to benefit the charm of this community,” Shaw said. “Just because a loophole or incentive has been offered by the state, it does not mean that this is the right thing to do for our city. We love Newport Beach, and we want to see it developed in a tasteful way that benefits everyone for many years to come. This should not be an argument against us and them. We all want this to be successful.”

There was also some confusion as to whether or not this type of project is allowed a parking reduction through the Housing Accountability Act.

Given that this is the first time they’re dealing with the Housing Accountability Act in a way that is this aggressive, Councilmember Will O’Neill said he’d like to have a better understanding of the parking issues, the design issues (from an objective/subjective standard) and density bonus issues. He’s struggling with the legal side of the project, regarding the discussion about parking and commercial development, he said.

“I would like to have more analysis on all of this because I’m trying to figure out how to get to a decision on this,” O’Neill said.

Hopefully, with the continuance, between now and when the project returns, a lot of the issues can be worked out, O’Neill said.

“Fingers crossed, maybe that happens,” O’Neill said, suggesting the applicant work with the Coalition’s attorney. “If you can’t agree, that’s fine, but I’d like to get to the point where we’re making the right call, obviously…I’d like to get it right.”

Matsler said they are open to continuance. 

“We’ve learned and heard a lot of new things tonight that we want to respond to in writing,” Matsler said. 

State laws purposely take away the subjective standards and control within city code, O’Neill said, for the sole purpose of building more housing.

“The state law is the hindrance in all of this,” O’Neill said. “It’s incredibly frustrating. But, again, (we’re) trying to figure out how to get it right.”