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Lillian Boyd and Andrea Clemett, Dana Point Times
Despite the Dana Point Planning Commission’s approval of a hotel development to be built next door to the Chart House overlooking Dana Point Harbor, the applicants must now await city council approval thanks to an appeal.
The applicants—Sagar Patel, on behalf of the ownership group Global Resorts, Inc., and Yenny Ng, on behalf of YNG Architects—requested approvals allowing them to build a hotel at 34482 Green Lantern, which would sit on the corner of Cove Road.
Patel and Ng initially requested a coastal development permit (CDP) and conditional use permit (CUP) to construct a 51-room hotel and associated parking facilities. The applicants requested a lot merger, valet and tandem parking, modified parking garage ramps, and for architectural features that are fewer than 10 feet above the district building height.
City of Dana Point senior planner Sean Nicholas confirmed the hotel will have 60 subterranean parking spaces, 24-hour valet services, bluff-top amenities and affordable accommodations. There will be a roof-top deck, garden and pool that will be exclusively for hotel use, without public access. Nicholas said the architecture will take advantage of the site’s expansive views by incorporating glass and metal.
Nicholas said the building will have no identifiable architectural style in order to provide accurate neighborhood context and features in the plans are fewer than 10 feet above the district building height limit. There are an extra nine parking spaces added to the 51-space minimum.
The development borders the Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area, where the parks are intended to maintain public views while preserving the sensitive habitat areas.
In a public comment during an Aug. 26 hearing for the project, local resident Merry Wong shared her concerns of the proposed development because of its close proximity to the Dana Point Headlands Conservation Area. Wong said that currently the harbor point conservation area has more than 100 varieties of native plants, 15 of which are rare plants as determined by the California Native Plant Society.
The habitat for the conservation area holds several rare and endemic plant communities, including southern coastal bluff scrub, native grasslands, maritime succulent scrub, mixed chaparral, and coastal sage scrub, according to the city’s park website. It was also noted that the various mix of habitats provide a place for plants and animals that are considered threatened and limited. A native plant can be defined as a species that lives naturally in a particular region, ecosystem, or habitat without human introduction.
“The two animal species that I’m very concerned about are the federally protected pacific pocket mouse and the federally threatened California Gnatcatcher,” Wong said. “Now these two animals specifically survive on coastal scrub, sage environment, which is their food source.”
The pocket mouse favors a sparse, sandy, vegetated desert environment, and the California Gnatcatcher lives in coastal sage scrub, desert scrub, and coastal dune scrub year-round. The conservation area provides the nesting grounds for male California Gnatcatchers to choose a site in sagebrush, buckwheat, or other shrub species. The nest shrub is generally on a gradual slope or within a trench or gully. The nest sits about 2 ½ feet above the ground near the outer edge within the shrub.
“We have 13 nesting pairs of gnatcatchers on the conservation area; our concern is trash, because that brings in the ravens that are predator birds, and they will prey on the gnatcatcher birds,” Wong said. “Also, the trash brings in the Argentine Ants, which are believed to eat injured mice, and they reduce the presence of pollinators by invading flowers, and then the pollinators cannot do their job. Artificial lighting is another concern, because the majority of our mammals on the preserve are nocturnal, so artificial light will affect their natural habits as they hunt for food in the evenings.”
Dr. James Maley is a collections manager at the Moore Lab of Ornithology at Occidental College. He also specializes in the DNA of the California Gnatcatcher. Dana Point Times spoke with Maley to follow up on Wong’s assertions during the hearing.
He says that feral cats supersede birds of prey as the more common predator of the California Gnatcatcher.
“Construction could yield trash, which could attract raccoons, feral cats, bobcats and coyotes,” Maley said. “But these sorts of animals don’t go out hunting for the gnatcatcher. They’ll catch them if they’re lucky.”
He says it’s common for residents and construction crews to leave out food and water for feral cats, which only encourages cats to live and prey on local species in the area.
“Noise can definitely be a problem,” Maley said. “It can disrupt communication between birds, and gnatcatchers are no exception. If the birds can’t hear each other, then they can’t reinforce their territorial boundaries, find mates or keep tabs on each other. All of these things are essential to the gnatcatchers’ success.”
Maley says this is a common occurrence for most birds living in urban and suburban areas. When a bird population lives in sensitive habitat adjacent to loud noise, it will reduce reproductive success and cause greater mortality to adults.
“As far as predatory birds, like peregrines, another development in the area could serve as a perch. These predators aren’t necessarily bad but it is something you’ll likely see,” Maley said.
Seven people spoke in opposition of the project during the public-comment period, citing concerns for building height, noise and traffic concerns.
Commissioner Eric Nelson motioned to approve the CDP. However, the proposed architectural features on the roof that exceeded the height limit were denied by the planning commission.
“If coverings are desired by the applicant above the exterior stairwell or access to the roof deck, any improvements must be consistent with the 35-foot height limit,” the motion states, according to the approved minutes of the meeting.
Nelson’s motion was approved unanimously.
Pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), the project was determined to be categorically exempt per Section 15332 and, therefore, did not require an environmental impact report (EIR). Per the staff report, Section 32 of CEQA Guidelines stipulates that projects that are consistent with the applicable general plan and zoning regulations, and are less than five acres and substantially surrounded by urban uses with no habitat value and would result in no significant effects relating to traffic, noise, air or water quality, are categorically exempt.
“There was a traffic study conducted, and we found there to be no impact,” said Matt Schneider, director of community development. “Our traffic engineer (Rich Barretto) spoke to that during the hearing.”
Schneider confirmed that a noise study was done and in terms of air quality, the California Air Resources Board offers a computer model to generate predictions of impact. No significant impact to air quality was found. Schneider says the project met all requirements and standards for storm water, and no significant impact to water quality was found.
“If we weren’t able to check off all these boxes, there would be an initial study,” Schneider said. “CEQA requires an EIR or a mitigated negative declaration (MND). That was not the case for this project.”
An Appeal is Filed
On Tuesday, Sept. 10, the law firm Delano & Delano filed an appeal with City of Dana Point regarding the approved permit for the proposed hotel at 34482 Green Lantern.
In a letter to the city, signed by attorney Everett Delano III, the firm calls for bringing the matter before city council.
“Concerned Residents of Dana Point is a group of Dana Point residents seeking to protect the environment, community character, and aesthetics in and around the Project vicinity. Concerned Residents of Dana Point use, enjoy and benefit from the resources negatively impacted by the proposed Project,” the letter states.
The site is located within the Coastal Development District of the Dana Point Specific Plan (DPSP)/Local Coastal Program (LCP), which is the applicable Local Coastal Program for properties directly above the Dana Point Harbor. The site lies within the California Coastal Commission appeals area of the Coastal Development District of the DPSP/LCP. In accordance with Implementing Actions Program of the DPSP/LCP, the Orange County Zoning Code (OCZC) is auxiliary to the DPSP, and for any item or issue not included in the DPSP land use regulations, the OCZC shall apply.
Based on the project’s design and OCZC standards, a Coastal Development Permit is required for the development of a coastal bluff lot and lot merger, and a Conditional Use Permit is necessary for architectural features that exceed the height limit by fewer than 10 feet.
The letter argues that the grounds for appeal include factual errors made in approving the Project.
“The findings adopted by the Planning Commission were not supported by the facts, and the decision by the Planning Commission is in conflict with numerous land use, planning, and environmental requirements,” the letter states. “ . . . Commenters noted the City’s failure to comply with the requirements for the calculation of height and other Municipal Code and Design Guidelines violations.”
Delano III argues that the project is inconsistent with the General Plan, Specific Plan and Local Coastal Program, and violates the California Coastal Act and CEQA.
The letter argues that the project fails to properly provide low-cost visitor and recreational facilities, fails to protect the scenic and visual qualities of the area and fails to provide adequate parking facilities and transportation services to maintain and enhance public access. To view the letter’s entirety, visit danapointtimes.com.
Schneider stated that because the project now faces an appeal, the matter will go to Dana Point City Council. Because the appeal was submitted on Sept. 10, the item has not yet been agendized. To check for updates on when the appeal will appear before council, check danapointtimes.com or visit danapoint.org to see upcoming city council agendas.
In an interview with Dana Point Times, Delano III said staff from the Delano & Delano law firm intend on attending the city council meeting in which the appeal has been placed on the agenda.
The owners of the 34482 Green Lantern property did not respond to Dana Point Times’ multiple requests for comment before press time.
Neighboring Cannons Project Delays from CCC
In a California Coastal Commission hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 11, proposals to revamp Cannons Restaurant were put on hold. The 34482 Green Lantern property is in close proximity to Cannons and both overlook the Dana Point Harbor.
Commission staff stated in a report that with the loss of low-cost accommodations, the ability of all members of the public to enjoy the coast is constrained.
The commission voted without discussion that there was a “substantial issue” that called for further review of the plans before construction, despite approvals from the planning commission earlier this year.
“We will continue to work with the property owners, city staff and the commission to address the issues that have been outlined,” said Lisa Mortimer, who co-owns Cannons. “In the meantime, we are still open for business, whether its dinner or events.”