The Newport Beach City Council late Monday approved a compromise Irvine Co. plan to dramatically expand Newport Center, but the project still may be stalled by stiff opposition from local groups.
Permission to complete the posh business and retail complex was approved by a 5-2 vote, with council members Evelyn Hart and Donald Strauss opposing.
The plan, which has been revised three times since the early 1970s, calls for several new office buildings, hundreds of new shops, town homes, cultural amenities and road improvements on 518 acres in and around the complex in eastern Newport Beach. About 700 residential units have been proposed for the periphery of the company's property.
Approval was granted after "major alterations . . . to virtually every component of the plan" were made, according to Patty Temple, director of advanced planning for the city. A revised draft of the plan will be made public today.
Irvine Co. President Thomas H. Nielsen told the council Monday night: "We believe the plan represents a fair balance between public interests and our private interests. The plan has been modified and includes expanded cultural and community facilities."
But protest by Newport residents who oppose the development is already stirring.
"It would just destroy our community," said Dick Nicholl, a resident of Corona del Mar who has been instrumental in organizing opposition. "The feeling is pretty much that the traffic in Corona del Mar has reached its limits and we'll probably be participating pretty heavily in a referendum."
Before the vote, council members listened to more than an hour of public testimony, which was representative of divided sentiments among Newport Beach residents.
In 1982, a group of residents called SPON (Stop Polluting Our Newport) collected enough signatures to overturn the council's approval of the original plan, prompting the Irvine Co. to withdraw its proposal.
Since then, the Irvine Co. has revised the project, scaling down the amount of proposed office space by 30%. It also has added a view park at the top of the Jamboree Road and Coast Highway hill and eliminated plans for homes on 70 acres of land near the Upper Newport Bay at Irvine Avenue and University Drive.
But SPON members said Tuesday that the plan still is too aggressive and will create significant traffic problems. SPON may again circulate petitions to reverse the council's vote, president Jean Watt said.
"Future councils' hands would be tied if we don't develop the proper access roads now," she said.
Councilman Donald A. Strauss said Tuesday: "I'm disappointed in the vote because I feel that the council didn't really take seriously the overwhelming problem of traffic that will be experienced with the tremendous amount of new office space."
During the meeting, Strauss said: "This will add over 1 million feet of office space to a city already suffering from congestion."
The traffic issue was also a matter of concern at the Irvine Co. Tuesday.
"We were very pleased overall with the approval of the land use plan," said Dave Dmohowski, Irvine Co. director of government affairs. But, he said, the major traffic improvements required at the expense of the Irvine Co. are "aggressive."
Under the approved plan, the Irvine Co. must finance the construction of the Pelican Hill thoroughfare, which will reroute traffic from Coast Highway, next to Cameo Highlands at the southern edge of Corona del Mar, over the hills north to the Bonita Canyon Road intersection at MacArthur Boulevard.
Dmohowski said work on Pelican Hill Road is slated to begin within the year and could reroute traffic around the downtown Corona del Mar area by the fall of 1988.
The traffic package also calls for widening of Coast Highway to six lanes, which Nicholl says will turn it into a "superstreet," making local shopping and neighborhood walks impossible.
Nicholl said the proposed elimination of parking spaces along the south side of the highway would have an additional detrimental effect on local businesses.
SPON has been represented by the San Francisco law firm of Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, which specializes in environmental law.
Terry Watt (daughter of SPON president Jean Watt), an urban planning specialist with that law firm, said the council "rushed through" the plan "without really grappling with the long-term effects of what is really probably the biggest project ever having to do with the nature of the community."
"Our advice to SPON will be twofold," Watt said. "No. 1, they need to go forth with all the tools they are armed with to challenge the council decision, and 2, they may decide to battle the EIR (environmental impact report) in court."
Watt said the environmental report prepared by the city is legally inadequate, containing incomplete responses to some questions and substantial misinformation.
If the group does circulate petitions, they must be signed by about 5,000 registered voters (10% of the city's total) and must be filed with the city clerk within 30 days. The council would then be obliged to rescind the action or set the measure for special election.
Before any of the plans approved Monday night are set into action, the Irvine Co. must apply for a battery of building permits and more specific site development plans to the city, Temple said.