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This courtesy rendering shows a southwest-facing view of the PCH/Golden Lantern mixed-use project approved by the Dana Point Planning Commission on Monday.
This courtesy rendering shows a southwest-facing view of the PCH/Golden Lantern mixed-use project approved by the Dana Point Planning Commission on Monday.

By Andrea Swayne

A main street corner in the Town Center/Lantern District is one step closer to a new mixed-use development after receiving a unanimous thumbs-up from the Dana Point Planning Commission on Monday.

The 34175 Pacific Coast Highway development, at the corner of PCH and Golden Lantern, will be built on the land now occupied by Union Bank and will consist of 8,730 square feet of commercial space at ground level, three levels of subterranean parking and 39 residential units in the second and third stories.

The development was first introduced to the public at a Planning Commission study session on Sept. 8, 2014 and, according to the staff report, the project approved Monday was nearly identical to the developer’s initial presentation.

The project owner, M&A Gabaee, LP, was represented at the meeting by George Ray of GTR Property Development and Michael Bond of the architect, landscape and urban design firm, Studio One Eleven, who presented the project plans and fielded commissioners’ questions.

According to the staff report, the plan, as an “in-fill development project” is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, environmental impact review requirements.

Residential units will include seven studios, 24 one-bedrooms, four two-bedrooms, and four two-bedroom two-level townhomes.

The maximum height of the project is set at 40 feet. In compliance with set building standards, rooftop heating and air conditioning condensers and surrounding screens to hide them are allowed to project above the rooftop by 36 inches, 6 inches under the set 42-inch limit. An enclosed stairway providing roof access for maintenance will extend 4.5 feet above surrounding parapets. The project does not include rooftop decks or rooftop elevator access.

The project’s parking plan complies with the city’s currently adopted parking code.

This courtesy rendering shows a northwest-facing view of the PCH/Golden Lantern mixed-use project approved by the Dana Point Planning Commission on Monday.
This courtesy rendering shows a northwest-facing view of the PCH/Golden Lantern mixed-use project approved by the Dana Point Planning Commission on Monday.

City Council’s recently approved parking plan amendment—which has yet to be certified by the California Coastal Commission—was not applied to this project.

With a total of 65 residential spaces and 40 commercial spaces, the project is over-parked, at five more spaces than required by the current code. Parking for studios and one-bedrooms is figured at 1.7 spaces per unit and two-bedrooms are figured at 2.2 spaces per unit.

“If the Coastal Commission approves the proposed parking plan amendment, there will be no effect on this project,” said Ursula Luna-Reynosa, the city’s community development director at the meeting. “If the Coastal Commission does not approve it, then the current parking plan stands.”

Residential and commercial spaces, all contained within the plan’s three levels of underground garage, will be separated via a mechanical gate.

According to the plan, the modern/contemporary architectural style includes a variety of step-backs on all three levels—including view/lounge decks for residents—in order to avoid a “wedding cake” appearance and provides visual interest on all facades.

The Planning Commission’s vote approved the demolition of the current structure, a sign program permit, a subdivision of ownership for residential and commercial portions of the project and a variance to temporarily allow a curb cut on the PCH side for an entry/exit driveway.

THE VARIANCE

In order to promote the pedestrian focus/continuous storefronts in the Lantern District, the Town Center Plan/Lantern District Plan does not allow for new driveways along PCH and Del Prado Avenue. Evan Langan, the city’s associate planner, explained that technically a driveway on Golden Lantern would be allowed; however, due to safety concerns such as traffic and the street’s downward slope, established bus stop and utilities, encroachment permits for a driveway there would not be granted.

The PCH driveway was seen as a necessity in order to attract and increase the viability of quality commercial (retail and restaurant) tenants which will in turn provide the traction needed to jump start the pedestrian-friendly development in the entire area, said Ursula Luna-Reynosa, community development director.

“Providing better access will help to attract the best restaurants and retailers,” Luna-Reynosa said. “As a pioneering project, this is critical to the success of the Lantern District.”

The original proposal came with a caveat that the driveway variance be allowed only until either the Town Center Plan’s prescribed PCH widening or development of the adjacent lots (34171, 34713), whichever comes first. At that time, the driveway would be closed and converted to an additional 1,100 square feet of commercial space. Planning Commissioner Scott McKhann recommended the addition of a minimum time guarantee for the PCH driveway to remain, in case the adjacent lot happens to be developed quickly, triggering the immediate removal of the driveway. During the motion before the vote, a five-year minimum was added to the variance in order to give the developer at least five years’ use of the driveway.

“Let them bring people in, let them park, let them dine, that’s what we need,” said Commissioner April O’Connor about the PCH driveway, referring to it as necessary to attract businesses that will give pedestrians somewhere to walk to, where now there is nothing.

The five-space parking surplus will accommodate the additional commercial space upon the closure of the PCH driveway.

A second, permanent driveway will be located on San Juan Avenue.

PUBLIC COMMENT

Resident Buck Hill said he agreed that the development “looks like a nice addition to the town” but questioned the plan’s total commercial area, saying he believes it to be short of about 1,890 square feet, in hallways and utility area, which he believes would make the project parking short by four spaces. Hill also asked if there is any way to prevent residential owners from using units as vacation rentals and criticized what he said was too little time for review of the plan by the public and asked for specific justification for the variance.

According to assistant City Attorney Jennifer Farrell, aside from a homeowners’ association disallowing vacation rentals per its CC&Rs, the city cannot order property owners to disallow them.

“If allowed, vacation rentals will be subject to city regulations,” Farrell said.

Resident Bob Theel spoke in favor of the project but said he doubted the “reality of this project every getting off the ground” due to it being “fatally flawed” as he believes the cost of the underground parking will render it economically unfeasible.

“Case in point,” Theel said, “is the Advent Group’s mixed-use project at the southeast corner Del Prado and Violet Lantern that was approved in December 2013 … the project met all development standards … and was approved unanimously by the Planning Commission … to meet requirements it was designed with two and a half levels of underground parking … a significant cost burden to the owner.” Despite the Advent Group being well-capitalized and experienced in development finance, the economic burden has not allowed this project to move into the construction phase, he added.

“The 2015 Town Center Initiative throws out the city’s effort to remove excessive parking regulations, throws out the parking management plan and retains the existing excessive parking regulations and undermines the viability of the Town Center,” Theel said. “It’s a no-growth initiative disguised as a responsible development initiative. I feel this project will meet the same fate as the Advent project if the 2015 Town Center Initiative is not defeated.”

Architectural Guild of South Orange County representative and resident Richard Price said the guild is not concerned with the aesthetics of the project, “except maybe the west view of the building,” but is concerned with the mass.

Resident Harold Kaufman said he is in favor of the project but questioned the reasoning for granting the variance and suggested the commission approve the project but deny the variance.

Bond responded to Price’s massing comment by pointing out the FAR (floor area ratio) for the project is 1.89 and the allowable FAR is 2.5.

“We could have gone considerably bulkier but it was our choice to scale it down at San Juan and Golden Lantern to create variety,” Bond said.

“I think this is a great project,” McKhann said. “It’s beautiful and it implements the vision for the Town Center. It meets the heights, it meets the set-backs … I feel like it’s compliant with the Town Center Plan massing. The parking meets the current code, not the proposed, adjusted parking management plan that hasn’t been approved by the Coastal Commission. I think this could be a great jump start to the Town Center … I consider the variance justified in that they are not being allowed to take access off of Golden Lantern even though the Town Center Plan envisions that and there’s no alley access … I am supportive of this project.”

His fellow planning commissioners agreed, all voicing their support for the project before lodging their unanimous vote in favor.

The approval triggers the developer’s next step: converting the approved conceptual drawings into actual construction documents before beginning to apply for building permits.

Click here to read the project plans and the full meeting agenda.

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comments (7)

  • There are times when a man draws a line in the sand. He doesn’t dare another man to cross over the line to start a fight, but sets a limit, a standard, at which point you are pushed and crowded into a defensive position. I say this, because most people, 99% don’t see the dotted line drawn. Our city manager limits Red Flag Poles to show the public where the dotted line is in the sky, blocking views, blocking sky and open space, call it what you wish, call it elbow room. In the 50’s and 60’s Dana Point was built out, the maximum dotted line was drawn. I beg, the paper to have an article that shows the dotted lines. Our freedom to have planned and reasonable setbacks are under attack. Please show the dotted lines, that set a standard, that places Dana Point streets center stage, in a box canyon. Does any have the money, to start the fund, that elects a committee, that has a purpose, to enforce laws that protect our open space laws. I got $25 bucks to start the fund.

  • This looks like downtown LA, this is very, very unattractive architecture and it is amazing how anyone can let this go through. Not to mention we are in a drought, limited to watering one day a week, and forced to conserve our household water use and I wonder how do all these new residences fit into that. What is happening to Dana Point?

  • I’m confused by the comments of resident Bob Theel in this article. Not only does he arrogantly suggest that he’s smarter than the architect, urban designer and developer who proposed this development, but he dares to say it is “fatally flawed” and will never “get off the ground”. This guy must be the Kool-aid drinker in chief.

    What vast development experience does Mr. Theel have? I don’t know the guy, but he seems to think that if a developer provides adequate parking, he can’t make his project pencil. Look around Bob. There are plenty of projects around that are 40 feet or less with adequate parking, and they all seem to be surviving. Is this your model? Only build projects with no parking so they make “financial sense”?

    Building a residential or commercial building with inadequate parking makes NO financial or even COMMON sense. Wise up. You should meet your buddies commenting on another article on this forum – Long Term Resident and Dana Pointer. Or….. is one (or both) of those your pseudonym? Come on Bob, fess up! There can’t be three of you with the same mindless reasoning.

  • Project looks nice with the exception of the balconies overlooking San Juan. M&A Gabaee (apparently stands for Mark and Arman Gabay, the owners) is a development co located in Hollywood. They own a lot of properties and probably know what they’re doing, so it will hopefully get built.

    As far as the TCI’s passing making the project infeasible, 23,901 votes were cast in last Nov’s election. The 3 candidates (Payne, Jenkins, and Rathbone) supported by the DPRRD received only 30.5% of the votes. There were 9 candidates running, so they received less than the average (33.3%) that 3 random candidates would be expected to get. Therefore the TCI will most likely fail, especially with the Council’s competing measure on the ballot also.

    • If adopted, TCI would not make this project unfeasible and TCI probably wont fail in the election.

      People have learned a lot about what is going on in Dana Point since November 2014. They understand the undue influence of Mr Edwards and the other real estate interests (yourself included) that seem to have puppets on our city council. The mailing onslaught that got those people elected to the council last time probably wont work in 2016. We know better now.

  • Article A Lantern District Pioneer: Planning Commission Green-lights PCH/Golden Lantern Mixed-use Development By the black sheep, Andrea Swayne / titled should have been “What were they thinking?”
    Robert Cahill “ . . . on success.” No matter who moves their money and business to DP I join others in hopes that they are successful, and profitable. BUT, to what degree, what length, what is lost in the trade?
    If past real estate developers / lawyers enjoy playing City Council respectable citizen for the decade, let them. BUT, not on my dollar, not on my mismanaged taxes, not on my oxygen. If R.E. prospective profitability is at risk for such a project (above), I say, “Join the club of American competitive innovative spirit to make a better mousetrap.” No one gets a free ride, unless of course you have a few anchor babies.
    All of us naturally compare this project to other mega-apartment-complexes just miles away. I find other 4 story sites to be better located and this forced-design to be oversized, out of place, ‘forced-to-make-a-profit’’ – none of us really know? But, I would like to see a forecast of investment capitalization and return – not! Citizens want to preserve open space; this fails. Underground parking is smart, removing more street parking is problematic on weekends.
    1. What I fear most is this tricky cookie-cutter 40’s and 50’s stucco building will quickly appear dirty (ie Anaheim Court / train station.) These designs do not fit ‘good appreciation components’. Our concern with beauty or the appreciation of architecture cannot be forced upon the City Council, Planning Commission and lastly the landlord; who truly only has profitability concerns; in other words, a R.E. money making machine. At what cost to our children?

    Now, imagine this projection in 10 years. This apartment example times 104% larger next door, increasing at 104% each project, pushing the limits again and again. This planning commission / the Town Center construct is a disaster in the making, made possible by zoning gold mines. Past City Council will not come forward to take the blame; but secretly will we ever find out their true motivation to take our oxygen? Our buffalos’? Our green abalone, our baby beach space.

    Our local four major hotels have the most at risk. DP will become a slum, over populated, miserably planned; fewer and fewer rich people will be taking pictures of palm trees to send home.

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