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Commission denies appeal, upholds approval of Pine Knot Motel rehabilitation project

By SARA HALL

The Planning Commission denied an appeal and upheld a previous staff approval of permitting for a rehabilitation project of the Pine Knot Motel in West Newport.

Commissioners voted 5-0 (Brady Barto was absent and Tristan Harris abstained due to a business relationship with a member of the applicant on an unrelated project) on December 7 to affirm the zoning administrator’s September 28 approval of a coastal development permit to allow the addition of a partial second story and the rehabilitation of the 12-room motel, located at 6302 West Coast Highway, near the community of Newport Shores. The motel has been closed and was partially demolished after it was significantly damaged due to a fire in 2018.

It’s a difficult site for both staff and a developer to try and make work, commented Vice Chair Mark Rosene, who made the motion for approval.

“I look at everything about this project as being difficult to bring forward unless you make some accommodations,” he said. “I commend the applicant for actually bringing something forward and staff for coming up with a solution to make it work.”

If there’s an operational issue, staff can ensure that the applicant is aware and addresses it, Rosene added.

Pine Knot Motel historically provided 12 guest rooms, caretaker quarters, lobby, central courtyard, rooftop deck and nine onsite parking spaces. Due to room rates falling below the statewide average daily room rate, the motel meets the Local Coastal Program definition of a low cost overnight visitor accommodation.

On April 10, 2018, a structure fire occurred within the southwestern corner of the property. Several rooms were red-tagged (unsafe to enter) and later demolished. The remainder of rooms were yellow tagged (given limited access to retrieve personal items only) and were not demolished, but are uninhabitable. The motel has been shuttered and fenced off since the fire.

According to city staff, the owners of the motel at the time of the fire explored a variety of options to restore the property but ultimately sold the property to the current ownership.

The previous owners were unable to revitalize the damaged motel after the fire in 2018, noted Eric Aust, architect on the project.

“It’s been an eyesore for the city of Newport Beach for years and is in desperate need of repair,” Aust said sharing photos of the current derelict condition of the motel.

The goal from the outset of the project is to maintain the majority of the existing structure that wasn’t burned down or damaged from the fire while minimizing the impact on the surrounding neighborhood and enhancing the architecture of the site, Aust said. Residents of the area have been clamoring to repair the structure, which many have to drive by on a daily basis, he added.

“This unique, small hotel will provide a business and structure that the community can be proud of and will help revitalize a neglected part of the city,” Aust said.

The new structure will help block noise from Coast Highway to the Newport Shores neighborhood, while maintaining the lower scale at the rear of the property, Aust added.

Kevin Giz, owner of Pine Knot, noted the numerous letters sent to the commission in support of the motel plans.

“I’m passionate about this project and trying my best to make it work for the west side of Newport. A side of town that’s in need of improvement and truly deserves more. That is my goal,” Giz said.

After being destroyed by a fire, nonconforming uses and structures like this can typically be rebuilt by right, explained Associate Planner Joselyn Perez. However, this project involves adding a partial second story at the front of the building and increases the height by more than 10% and reduces the parking spaces (in order to include the accessible accommodations), therefore a CDP is required.

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of City of Newport Beach/Rendering by Eric Aust Architect

Pine Knot Motel current conditions and a rendering of the proposed rehabilitated motel

The current project involves repairing the existing damaged portion of the motel and constructing a new building to replace the demolished portion with a partial second story at the front of the property. Plans also call for a commercial trash enclosure and site improvements, including hardscaping, drainage and restriping of the existing parking lot. Restriping of the parking to comply disabled access standards will eliminate two parking spaces, resulting in a total of seven spaces provided.

Approximately 306 square feet will be added to the total gross floor area of the structure. The motel will maintain a relatively similar footprint and the same number of guest rooms compared to the previous motel. Although the layout of the rooms will be reconfigured to provide eight standard rooms and four suites, two of which will provide accessible accommodations for disabled persons.

According to project plans, the rehabilitated motel will feature a coastal modern architectural style that uses a mix of materials, such as wood siding and stucco, and will be painted white with black accents.

The proposed motel will feature a lobby with coffee bar, a courtyard with bocce ball and fire pit, a lounge, storage lockers, second-floor deck space, and laundry facilities. In addition, beach-friendly amenities such as bicycles, towels, and chairs will be available to motel guests.

The rehabilitated motel “will ultimately remedy a blighted condition and will provide a significant aesthetic improvement to the neighborhood thereby improving the visual quality of the coastal zone,” according to city staff.

Any new signage will have to be consistent with the city’s sign code and will return to the city for approval.

Resident and community watchdog Jim Mosher filed an appeal on October 12 of the zoning administrator’s decision. He had commented during the ZA meeting and suggested the Planning Commission should review the project and questioned some of the conclusions made by staff at the time.

At last week’s meeting, Mosher said he’s appealing the project to the Planning Commission because when it was before the ZA, he noted several concerns that officials might come to different conclusions regarding: Processed as a restoration of prior use; industry assessment was questionable; in-lieu fee was extremely low and parking was below standard.

In his additional written comments shared with the commission, Mosher questioned if the motel should be allowed to reopen without a conditional use permit, since the right to continue a nonconforming use normally lapses after six months of non-use and other hotels and motels currently require a conditional use permit.

Also, Mosher commented that the project being proposed is notably different, a high-cost hotel, compared to what existed previously, a low-cost motel.

Staff’s proposal of a one-time payment of $25,000 for each low-cost room lost or not provided is an inadequate effort to mitigate losing the low cost overnight visitor accommodations, he argued. The funds, which will be contributed to the city’s Fostering Interest in Nature program, were approved without explanation. It also appears to be far less than the cost of building a low-cost visitor accommodation in Newport Beach, Mosher explained.

Mosher also objected to the total number of rooms being assessed for the mitigation fee. This was apparently the site of the only 12 low-cost visitor accommodations in the Newport Beach coastal zone and, according to city code, there is doubt as to the number of accommodations that need to be mitigated for when the site is redeveloped. Staff asserts the number is three, but it could be as high as 12, he noted. Mosher also wrote in his appeal application that it is unclear if five years of unavailability, whether voluntary or involuntary, relieved the property of responsibility for the lost low-cost units when it is redeveloped.

The only other public speaker at last week’s meeting was Rene Rimlinger, president of Newport Shores Community Association, who supported the project moving forward. The NSCA board also unanimously supports the plans, he added.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.


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