Hotel developer expected to present new plans at Planning Commission’s April 14 meeting
By Andrea Papagianis
More questions were asked than answered this week as the Planning Commission continued a public hearing on the proposed Doheny Hotel that has drawn the community’s ire.
One thing was certain, however. The hotel’s fate will not be decided until April 14 at the earliest.
Monday evening, the Planning Commission continued a hearing surrounding the conflict-ridden two- to five-story hotel for a second time. More than 50 people filled the Dana Point Community Center’s gym expecting a decision. What they received was a project overview from consultants with UltraSystems, who are completing the project’s environmental impact report.
The problem: No one is clear on what the proposal is at this point.
“We cannot discuss the merits of the project because we do not have a project before us this evening,” Commissioner April O’Connor said, as staff and commissioners volleyed questions and answers.
Commissioner Norm Denton recused himself from all Doheny Hotel discussion as his homeowner’s association owns land within 500 feet of the proposed hotel.
On Dec. 9, hotel developer Beverly Hills Hospitality Group announced the original proposal would be modified to address community and commission concerns about height, density, traffic and parking brought up at previous meetings.
Initially, the developer introduced a 250-room hotel on three-adjoining lots at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Dana Point Harbor Drive and asked for a height variance to the city’s 35-foot limit to accommodate a five-story building. In December, the developer indicated it would modify an alternative in the project’s draft EIR—labeled “Option B”—that would utilize 0.76 acres of Lantern Bay Park for the hotel’s front driveway, to ease access, house taxis and parking, and serve as an additional loading dock. As it originally stood, a single loading dock would be located on PCH.
If the changes eventually gain commission approval, they will have to get the City Council’s OK for a 30-foot easement onto parkland. Orange County deeded the land to Dana Point for public park use.
At the December meeting, City Attorney Patrick Munoz said if the commission and council choose to move forward with the project, a case could be made that parking fulfills this requirement.
But without plans from the developer, those talks are a way off.
After Monday’s meeting, Coralee Newman, the developer’s communications consultant, said alternative plans would likely be completed later this month. Newman, with Government Solutions Inc., said community outreach meetings could follow.
It’s still unclear what those changes will entail. And as the commission began asking staff questions about sidewalk encroachments, landscaping and lighting plans, loading zones and height, the answer was clear, staff just doesn’t know what to expect.
Plans must be available for public review 10 days before any action is taken, staff said.
“You will have more information at the next meeting,” Community Development Director Ursula Luna-Reynosa told the commission, adding that the adjusted project “would be less invasive.”
Chairman Gary Newkirk challenged the idea an alternative plan would have less impact than the original but highlighted the project’s unknowns. Newkirk expressed concern Option B has more of an impact.
Under California Environmental Quality Act guidelines, the draft EIR provided project alternatives that could “feasibly meet” the developer’s objectives while lessening or avoiding significant impacts. As it reads in the EIR, Option B would increase the number of rooms and onsite parking spaces by acquiring park space. According to the report, this alternative “does not avoid significant or unavoidable impacts.”
Currently, the proposed hotel site includes a Jack in the Box, vacant store and 46-room hotel, all of which would be demolished.
While community members have voiced support for changes being made to a blighted corner at the city’s southern entrance, speaker after speaker Monday raised issue with the project’s size, height and impact on views, traffic, water and the existing hotel community.
The room erupted in applause after each speaker’s opposition comments. Newkirk repeatedly asked the crowd to refrain from clapping.
“There is not enough demand in this city … the only thing this hotel would do is take away existing business, from existing hotels,” said Eric Medor, a Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa representative.
Medor warned the commission to not underestimate the frequency of deliveries to a hotel that operates around the clock, 365 days a year. He said at any given time one to four trucks can be seen at the Marriott delivering goods. The hotel’s developer initially presented plans for a single loading dock on PCH, and proposed creating a right-turn only lane for southbound motorists onto Dana Point Harbor Drive.
Newkirk, a cyclist, stressed that bike traffic be taken into account.
“I don’t believe that anything traffic related can be looked at in this day and age without adequate consideration for bicycle traffic,” he said.
UltraSystems consultants assured the commissioner they were cognizant of bicyclists.
Local resident and Metropolitan Water District of Orange County board member Susan Hinman raised concerns over water usage at such a large hotel. Additionally, as a community member who advised Orange County when the Dana Point Specific Plan was being drafted, Hinman said she feared any variance approved for the hotel would “set a precedent and make it hard to deny future applications.”
Staff has held all development applications are examined individually, and no standard would be set if this particular project gains approval.
For now, the public hearing is continued until April 14, when staff expects updated plans to be presented to the commission.