Dana Point City Council approves harbor’s development permit

DANA POINT – The Dana Point City Council has been down this road several times before, and it is entirely possible some of the new faces coming aboard the dais will lodge a vote in favor of moving the Harbor Commercial Core Revitalization Project forward.

Still, three of the five council members present at the Nov. 18 City Council meeting voted in favor of approving a Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for the planned renovation of Dana Point Harbor. Similar plans were approved by the California Coastal Commission in May and by Dana Point City Council last year.

However, appeals filed with the Coastal Commission forced the Revitalization Plan to be tweaked and re-heard by the City Council.

The Coastal Development Plan approved by the City Council on Nov. 18 addressed four amendments, including the monitoring of boat launch ramp parking during summer, weekend and holiday hours, “timely construction” of the Dry Stack Boat Storage Building, preparation of an alternative dry boat storage plan to provide dry storage for at least 493 boats in case a Dry Stack Boat Storage Building cannot be built, and an additional analysis of “potential future shoreline hazards … associated with projected sea level rise, tsunamis and storm surges.”

Council members and stakeholders alike said it was time to move the plan forward.

Jim Miller, who owns Coffee Importers at Dana Point Harbor and is affiliated with the group Dana Point Harbor Now, expressed such urgency in his comments to the council.

“It’s been 17 years and the plan will never be a perfect plan,” Miller said. “If the plan is to move forward leaders need to see that enough is enough and it is time to stop all the delays and move the revitalization forward.”

Mayor Lisa Bartlett, who served in her final full meeting as a member of the Dana Point Council before moving to the Orange County Board of Supervisors, agreed. The Revitalization Project has floated in and out of multiple agencies during the terms of the previous two supervisors who represented Dana Point at the county level.

Bartlett’s supervisorial predecessor, Pat Bates, had said in October she hoped a groundbreaking would occur at some point before her successor’s first term ends in 2021.

However, Ted Olsen from Boaters 4 Dana Point Harbor said he was not so sure the new waterfront would be completed before Bartlett completes her run as supervisor.

“The County’s revised plan is still inconsistent with the certified Local Coastal Program,” Olsen said, adding what the council approved on Nov. 18 fails to “properly prioritize resources in the harbor as required by the Coastal Act.”

Olsen predicted the Revitalization Plan will return to the City Council at some point in 2015 despite its approval of the CDP. Boaters 4 Dana Point Harbor was involved with the appeal of the council’s 2013 vote. At the Nov. 18 meeting, Olsen had requested council members not approve the CDP until it includes a provision to maintain 493 dry boat spaces in the harbor at all times.

Until dry boat storage is satisfactorily addressed, Olsen believes the Revitalization Plan would continue to remain in a holding pattern.

Further alluding to how the Dana Point Revitalization Project has appeared to be in a perpetual holding pattern since it was conceived in 1997, Dana Point Mayor Pro Tem Steven Weinberg said the proposed waterfront project has been featured annually on the City Council agenda since he joined the dais in 2006.

“I don’t know how many times we can see the same thing. The last couple of iterations have not appeared to change,” Weinberg said.

James Lenthall, vice president of the Dana Point Boaters Association, agreed there have been minimal changes to what the council has approved, both last week and in recent years. He also pondered whether the revitalization plan would have to be voted on again. Though he hoped groundbreaking and construction would begin soon, Lenthall said the City Council should have attached a few conditions to the coastal development plan, including minimizing parking loss, relocating guest docks prior to construction and disclosing the revitalization’s finance plans.

“We fear the City Council’s refusal to attach our mitigations to the CDP may cause the Coastal Commission to continue to find the CDP in non-compliance with the Local Coastal Plan, and at worse initiate a de novo hearing on the Harbor Revitalization Plan, which will result in further significant delays and added expense,” Lenthall said. “It seems the council members believed they were expediting the process by not attaching any conditions. Instead, we may find ourselves here yet again, continuing the cycle of delays and expense.”

Lenthall held out some hope the Coastal Commission would accept Dana Point City Council’s latest approval and finally green light the project.

“The tilt of the Coastal Commission has changed in recent years, with a more favorable attitude towards coastal development and perhaps they won’t hold this project so strictly to the Local Coastal Plan,” he said.

At the Nov. 18 meeting, Lenthall told council members both he and the Dana Point Boaters Association were in supportive of the Revitalization Project.

Coming into the Nov. 18 meeting, key concerns among boaters included where dry boat storage spaces would be located during construction, and whether the Commercial Core project plan adequately addressed a flood hazard zone, signage and parking.

On the county level, official documents indicated there was some concern of how construction, once started, would impact customer traffic.

The Commercial Core project includes renovations and phased demolitions of existing buildings, construction of new commercial buildings, reconfiguration of streets, infrastructure and landscaping improvements, new signage and a two-level parking deck.

Conceived in the late 1990s, the Dana Point Harbor Revitalization Project has been in a holding pattern for three decades. The plan would potentially bring an additional 30,000 square feet of retail space and another 35,000 square feet of open space. Seven buildings would be redeveloped, while another 13 would be demolished.

The Revitalization Plan also calls for the redevelopment of the existing East and West Marinas–currently home to more than 2,400 boat slips–as well as the expansion of the Marina Inn hotel.

Council members William Brough and Scott Schoeffel did not attend the Nov. 18 meeting.

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