2607 Ocean Blvd

2607 Ocean Blvd as of May 2017: Coastal Commission hearing POSTPONED

Latest News:  A modified project was approved by the Planning Commission on December 7, 2017.  After fruitless attempts to get the City Council to review the compliance of the Planning Commission’s decision with the City’s Local Coastal Program (LCP), a free appeal was submitted to the California Coastal Commission on January 21, 2018, and was scheduled for a hearing before the CCC. It was to have been Item “W11a” during the CCC’s March 7 meeting in the Oxnard Harbor District offices, Port Hueneme.  CCC staff recommended a finding of “substantial issue,” which, if accepted, means a future hearing will be held at which the Coastal Commissioners will themselves evaluate the permit’s compliance with the LCP and possibly approve a scaled down project. However, on March 6, CCC staff indicated the March 7 item has been postponed for consideration at a future meeting. The date of that future meeting remains unknown.  It also remains unknown if that future hearing will be confined to the “substantial issue” decision, or will combine that with a hearing on a possible project for the site.

Project Overview:  This proposal for a multi-story replacement, with rooftop pool and living area, of the small existing single family residence on the bluff face adjacent to the China Cove Ramp in Corona del Mar has drawn considerable public interest.

Why We Were Watching: This is the first time the Planning Commission has been asked to review an application for a Coastal Development Permit.  This particular application requests numerous “variances” from the City’s normal development standards (none of which are currently allowed for CDP’s) and, as approved, would cause a permanent loss of public views from the ramp, which are supposed to be protected by the City’s Local Coastal Program, as well as permanently destroy a currently undeveloped portion of the China Cove bluff face and fence off public access to the City land at the top of the property, between it and Ocean Blvd, which would otherwise have potential as a public view spot.  Aside from these Coastal Act issues (the Coastal Act, though the local LCP, is supposed to protect, for all Californians, coastal views, coastal landforms and public access to them), it is regarded by many as an example of a disturbing trend toward “mansionization,” out of tune with the City’s existing character.  It is also an example of people buying properties and expecting to get an easy approval from the City to build something on it not allowed by the existing City codes and policies.

Upcoming

  • The procedural hearing that had been expected to be held on March 7 (see Recent Events, below) will be rescheduled.  Although it was expected the hearing might be conducted at the CCC’s April meeting in Redondo Beach, it is not on that agenda.  The eventual date is, as yet, unknown.

Recent Events

  • March 14, 2018:  The “story poles (see December 7, 2018, below) have been re-installed.  The reason for this is unknown.
  • March 7, 2018: A hearing on the January 22 appeal of the City’s approval of the Coastal Development Permit for 2607 Ocean Blvd was scheduled as Wednesday Item 11a (“W11a”) during the California Coastal Commission’s March 2018 meeting in Port Hueneme. As explained in the CCC’s Appeals FAQ, that hearing was to have focused on whether the appeal raises “substantial issues” of compliance with the City’s certified LCP. However, that hearing was postponed to a future date.
    • The CCC posting for March 7 consisted of a staff report recommending a finding of substantial issue, and supporting exhibits including a letter from the applicant’s representative opposing the appeal. If the Commissioners agree with CCC staff, the actual hearing on the modifications that would be necessary to bring the project into compliance with the LCP would occur at a later meeting. CCC staff also posted correspondence received in connection with the expected hearing, including a five-page letter from the City attempting to rebut each of the contentions raised in the appeal.
    • The online agenda includes a button to view the meeting remotely, by live stream.
    • It is important to understand that the postponed Item 11a on March 7 was a procedural hearing to accept for future hearing, or deny, the appeal of the City’s approval of the permit for the development.
    • As such, the only issues under consideration on March 7 will be whether there is reason to doubt the City’s approval could be justified under its certified Local Coastal Program, and if there is a question of compliance, whether there is reason to believe the lack of consistency had detrimental effects of enough statewide significance to warrant review by the Coastal Commission.
    • Comments were invited to be submitted to the CCC by email using the “Submit Comment” button following the Item 11a listing on the CCC agenda page, or by sending an email to SouthCoast@coastal.ca.gov with subject line “Public Comment on March 2018 Agenda Item Wednesday 11a – Appeal No. A-5-NPB-18-0006 (Nicholson Construction, Newport Beach)“.
    • To be most helpful, comments should be based on an understanding of the CCC staff report, and focus on Coastal Act consistency issues, not local zoning ones (purely local issues being things like whether the design or size matches that of nearby homes, or a statement residents don’t like it). For reference, the overarching goals of the Coastal Act are that all development in the Coastal Zone will, for the benefit of all Californians, and our visitors, be sized and sited to minimize impacts to public coastal views (from and to the ocean), coastal landforms and the public’s ability to freely access them. In reviewing the Newport Beach Planning Commissions decision on 2607 Ocean Blvd, CCC staff found possible issues of inconsistency with all three of these, and comments in support of those findings of inconsistency are especially helpful.
    • As an example, moving the LCP-required setback lines to allow the home to be built lower down the slope, closer to Way Lane (as the present one is), might be consistent with the Coastal Act goal of minimizing impacts to treasured public views. Relaxing the setback requirements to permit construction of home larger than the LCP allows, as the Planning Commission did, is not consistent, since it maximizes impacts to views and landforms.
    • To reach the Coastal Commissioners as part of the posted agenda item, emailed comments had to be sent by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, March 2.
  • February 23, 2018:  With a hearing on the validity of the appeal scheduled for March 7 in Oxnard/Port Hueneme, CCC staff posts a report recommending a finding of “substantial issue.”
  • January 23, 2018: Notice of Appeal mailed by Coastal Commission staff, ordering the City to forward to them the materials on which the City’s decision was based.
  • January 21, 2018: appeal of City approval filed with California Coastal Commission.
  • January 9, 2018:  City returns December 21 CDP appeal and the appeal of the City’s challenge to it, saying it will take no action on either.
  • January 6, 2018:  City sends a “Notice of Final Action” to the Coastal Commission, triggering the opportunity for an appeal to them, since the project site is within the LCP appeal area (City approvals within that area can be appealed directly to the Coastal Commission if the City charges for local appeals, as it now appears it does).
  • January 5, 2018:  Appellant challenges City threat to reject appeal.
  • January 2, 2018:  City challenges and threatens to reject the December 21 appeal for refusal to pay a $1,536 filing fee, which was claimed due even though it was not mentioned in the notice of the hearing and (unlike for Zoning Code appeals, pursuant to NBMC Sec. 20.64.030.B.2) is not called out in the City’s LCP code.  The claim was the CDP had to be appealed along with any other matters approved at the same hearing, under any other codes, again something not called out in the LCP code, nor even logical since the Coastal Commission routinely rules on the compliance of CDP approvals with an LCP independent of all other local approvals.  The City’s offer to allow the appellant to add an appeal of the variance approval under Title 20 by January 6 was arguably itself illegal, since the original appeal made clear it was not appealing that, and the publicly announced time for filing a Title 20 appeal had ended on December 21.
  • December 21, 2017:  After unsuccessful efforts to get a City Council member to call the Planning Commission’s December 7 decisions up for review, a private citizen filed an Appeal Application for the Coastal Development Permit portion of the approval, only, with the City Clerk, as allowed under Section 4.3 of Resolution 2075.
  • December 7, 2017: The application was heard as Item 5 at the Planning Commission’s December 7 meeting, for which a new staff report was posted. According to the staff report, by eliminating the elevator stop on the roof, the applicant is no longer asking for a deviation from the City and coastal height standards, but still seeks variances to reduce the required setbacks and increase the allowed floor area. It might be noted that heights in Newport Beach are measured from the underlying land, so even though it may not technically be a height variance, allowing the land owner to reduce the setback from Ocean Blvd allows him to build farther up the bluff face, and hence higher. Reducing the setbacks also, in staff’s view, increases the buildable area and allows the land owner to build bigger (that is, allowing more floor area, even without a variance). Also according to the staff report, as suggested by the Planning Commission on Nov. 9, the applicant installed “story poles” (connected by strings and flags representing various key rooflines) on the property from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, illustrating how the proposed construction would impact views. Although the staff report continues to say the poles will disappear on Dec. 1, a later email from the applicant’s representative said the poles will be left in place through Dec. 8. Equally disturbingly, even though view impacts is a major concern with this project, the staff report contains no photos showing what the poles look like from various vantage points, and absolutely no computer simulations of how the actual building will affect existing views.Regarding the Coastal Development Permit issue, City staff clearly knows the City has no authority to grant variances from the recently adopted Local Coastal Program development standards, since they have asked the Coastal Commission for permission to add variance provisions to the LCP Implementation Plan. Coastal Commission staff has informed the City that adding those provisions would constitute a major amendment to the authority granted the City under the IP. To date, no hearings on the matter have yet been scheduled. Until language allowing variances from the LCP is certified, it seems the height of impudence for the City to be exercising an authority it has been clearly notified it has not been granted. At the hearing, staff said the Community Development Director has the authority to interpret the IP, and hence could “interpret” that it allows variances even if it doesn’t say so.  After hearing testimony from the applicant and public, on a motion by Commissioner Bill Dunlap, the Planning Commission voted 4:2 (with Commissioners Weigand and Lowrey voting “no” and Vice Chair Zak absent) to approve the application, provided the “public view obstruction problems” could be solved, apparently largely by using clear glass for the screening around the rooftop pool deck.  The final approval (PC Resolution No. 2075) was for 4,500 total square feet of floor area (including the garage, but not counting the livable roof area) on a lot where the maximum floor area allowed with the code-required setbacks would be 2,865 sf.
  • November 9, 2017:  The application began to be heard as Item 2 at the Newport Beach Planning Commission’s November 9, 2017, meeting (see video), but was continued to December 7.  Commissioners Kramer and Kleiman were inclined to grant the variance requests provided the elevator was moved back to the Ocean Blvd side of the property (where, although reaching exactly the same top elevation, it is technically less tall since its “height” is measured from a higher point on the slope.   The remaining Commissioners appeared to have problems with the project and asked the applicant to come back with something better.  Vice Chair Zak expressed the opinion that relaxing setback requirements should not serve as an excuse to use the resulting larger buildable area to justify a corresponding increase in floor area .

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