2607 Ocean Blvd as of December 2019:
Application withdrawn to avoid unanimous rejection by Coastal Commission
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. A CCC determination of whether the City’s approval raised “substantial issues” of statewide significance was originally scheduled for the CCC’s March 7 meeting in the Oxnard Harbor District offices, Port Hueneme, but was postponed at the last minute. The determination was finally made as Item F22a at the August 10, 2018, meeting in Redondo Beach, where, in response to a new staff report, supporting exhibits and correspondence, the twelve commissioners voted unanimously to find “substantial issue” and directed staff to schedule a full hearing on the application at future meeting (date to be determined). A hearing was finally scheduled as Item 15b on the Commission’s agenda for December 12, 2019, in Calabasas. Coastal Commission staff recommended approval with very minor modifications but, it became evident the Commission was going to vote unanimously to reject the project, prompting the proponents to withdraw the application, terminating their proposal.
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 Are 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.
- No upcoming events are currently scheduled, the proponents having withdrawn their application in view of imminent rejection by the California Coastal Commission.
- Technically, the proponents still have the local variance approvals granted by the City on December 7, 2017, but they cannot use that to build anything without a Coastal Development Permit — which would require an entirely new application.
- December 12, 2019: A hearing on this item was finally held as Item 15b on the Commission’s Thursday agenda for its meeting in Calabasas. Coastal staff recommended approval with some trivial changes to the project: lowering the glass privacy screen by 6 inches, reducing a projecting deck by 41 square feet and removing a gate blocking access to public property. See staff report, exhibits, correspondence and the Coastal staff’s response in the form of an addendum (rejecting the concerns expressed in the correspondence and continuing to recommend approval). Despite this, it became apparent the Commission was going to vote unanimously to reject the application, prompting the proponents to withdraw it — effectively terminating the present process. Withdrawing allows them to submit a new application — something they would have been allowed to do for one year if the vote to deny had been completed. The item starts at 5:18:30 in the Coastal Commission video, The applicant’s slide at 5:21;42 showed obvious visual impacts inconsistent with the Coastal Act.
- December 10, 2019: Although not on the agenda, some questions about this were asked at the City Council meeting.
- November 27, 2019: Coastal staff posts its report recommending approval of the project with minor modifications.
- November 25, 2019: Coastal staff mails notices to those who had previously contacted them about the project announcing a hearing to be held on December 12.
- November 22, 2019: Coastal staff posts a preliminary online agenda for its December meeting, showing, without further detail, an Item 15b on December 12 regarding an application for 2607 Ocean Boulevard. It is indicated as an “application” rather than an “appeal.”
- October 23, 2019: The applicant’s new representative, who happens to be the former Newport Beach Assistant City Attorney who advised City staff and the Planning Commission during the 2017 local hearings, sends a letter to Coastal staff touting three “positive developments” that should justify approval: (1) the deck and glass wall have been marginally reduced, (2) the Coastal Commission has allowed variances to its development standards, and (3) the applicant is offering $50,000 if the project is approved.
- October 8, 2019: City staff sends a letter to Coastal staff, reaffirming its support, and indicating that if the project is built, the applicant has offered to donate $50,000 to the City to improve public views and access elsewhere in the city.
- September 16, 2019: The developer, on behalf of the applicant, asks the appellant, in view of “community outreach and support,” to withdraw the appeal so they can go ahead with their project.
- July 24, 2019: Approximately 14 residents meet with the developer and City staff at the home of a resident overlooking the site. The meeting appears to have been intended to garner support for the project, although it was announced no changes to the plans had been made.
- January 8, 2019: CCC staff reportedly visited the site to view the story poles and other features at the invitation of the applicant.
- December 12, 2018: On a 7:3 vote, with Commissioners Escalante, Groom and Howell voting “no,” the Coastal Commission, as Item W24b at its meeting in the Newport Beach City Council Chambers, approved major amendments to the City’s LCP, including allowing the City, among other things, to grant variances to the certified development standards. The City Council accepted them on February 12 and 26, 2019, and the Coastal Commission certified them on April 11.
- September 17, 2018: CCC staff issues official notice that “substantial issue” was found at August 10 meeting. At the time of the notice, a hearing date for the appeal had not been set.
- August 10, 2018: As Item F22a on the agenda for the CCC’s Friday meeting in Redondo Beach, the Commission voted 12:0 to find the appeal raised sufficient issues of statewide significance to merit the holding of a full hearing on the proposed development.
- The hearing was confined to the question of whether the appeal raises sufficient “substantial issues” with Local Coastal Program compliance to require the scheduling of a full re-hearing of the project before the CCC at a future meeting. CCC staff recommended the Commission make that finding.
- A new staff report, supporting exhibits and correspondence (an odd hodgepodge of old and new letters) were posted for public review.
- Comments to the CCC on them were invited by clicking the “Submit Comment” button following the Item 22a listing on the CCC agenda page, or by sending an email to SouthCoast@coastal.ca.gov with the subject line “Public Comment on August 2018 Agenda Item Friday 22a – Appeal No. A-5-NPB-18-0006 (Nicholson Construction, Newport Beach)“.
- 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 .
- Daily Pilot (January 23, 2018): Approval of blufftop Corona del Mar house appealed to Coastal Commission
- Daily Pilot (December 27, 2017): Newport resident challenges approval of blufftop house with rooftop pool and elevator
- Daily Pilot (December 8, 2017): Blufftop Corona del Mar house gets go-ahead, with more changes
- Daily Pilot (November 10, 2017): Height of elevator at proposed CdM blufftop house draws rising opposition