The Newport Beach City Council unanimously approved the Irvine Co.'s Fashion Island expansion Monday, just hours after an unprecedented agreement between the company and slow-growth advocates was announced.
The group SPON (Stop Polluting Our Newport) which successfully had defeated the company's expansion plans at the polls and with petition drives since 1982, had opposed Fashion Island's expansion because it would have added 70,000 square feet of retail space, a 1,700-seat movie theater complex and a parking structure.
But on Monday, the group withdrew its opposition after a compromise was reached, said Karl Hufbauer, one of SPON's presiding officers who helped negotiate the agreement.
"We did have objections to those things, but this agreement is pointing us in a new direction. I doubt that the Irvine Co. has the same goals we have, but they have made a commitment and we have made a commitment, and we both have come to an agreement," Hufbauer said.
Monica Florian, vice president of resource entitlement for the Irvine Co., said the agreement offers an opportunity "to put aside litigation for mitigation and confrontation for consultation."
"We are taking this historic step in good faith and in the hope that consultation will prove more effective than confrontation in reaching land-use decisions that respect the range of community interests and concerns," Florian said.
Under the agreement, SPON has agreed to withdraw its opposition, provided that the Irvine Co. preserves its 65-acre Westbay parcel on the bluffs above Newport Bay as open space, deletes the extension of University Drive from Jamboree Road to Irvine Avenue and freezes submission or processing applications for development of its Newport Beach properties until the planning process is completed.
In addition, both sides plan to enter a joint study arrangement, inviting participation by the city and community, for the use of 400 remaining acres of undeveloped land the company owns in the city.
The study will focus on such issues as traffic, density, open space, the natural environment, and also economic and social benefits.
Florian said the study's goal will be to "enhance the quality of life (in Newport Beach by) balancing significant economic and environmental considerations," a balance that apparently has satisfied SPON's powerful anti-growth factions.
In the past, SPON's anti-growth drives have focused on increased traffic problems--and the city's alleged lack of adequate overall planning--which have led to historic victories against the developers.
Last year's defeat of Measure A, which would have permitted the Irvine Co.'s planned $300-million expansion of Newport Center, was regarded as one of the major anti-growth movements in Southern California.
Neither the organization's past accomplishments nor the effective approach to planned growth within the community was put aside or forgotten with the announced agreement, Hufbauer said.
Hufbauer, who stated the agreement's provisions, said: "These have led us to believe that they're (the Irvine Co. is) willing to try a different approach."
But Hufbauer cautioned, "It doesn't mean we're going to do it this way all the time in the future."
"To be included in the planning process, plus the deletion of University Drive, the designation of 65 acres as open space and the holding up of development indicates to us that the company is seriously going forward with public concerns about open space and solutions to traffic problems that are beneficial to all of us," Hufbauer said.
The open space will be dedicated to the public, Hufbauer said, so it can be compatible with the Upper Newport Bay environment.
"SPON hopes it will be for passive use, rather than a baseball or soccer field. Whether it ends up that way, well, we'll just have to see," he said.
Monday night's Fashion Island proposal was scaled-down from the original proposal, which called for a 188,000-square-foot expansion and a 2,500-seat theater, said Dawn Bouzeos, Irvine Co. manager of corporate community relations.
It was the defeat of Measure A that prompted the Irvine Co. to conduct an aggressive community relations campaign, which included holding a series of community meetings where company goals were explained, Bouzeos said.
"When Measure A was defeated for the whole plan, the company decided early in the summer after holding many community meetings to submit the Fashion Island portion of the expansion separately," Bouzeos said.
Also included in the expansion are an outdoor performance area and court where jugglers and mimes and community groups can perform, she said.