The Waterfront, a $350-million resort and residential development that Huntington Beach officials hope will be the catalyst for a renaissance of the beach community's aging downtown, has won approval of the city Planning Commission.
The swanky Mediterranean-style spread of hotels, restaurants, shops and condominiums would be Huntington Beach's largest development of any kind. The 44-acre resort complex, unveiled a year ago, is proposed for the corner of Beach Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway.
Several elements of the development are still subject to City Council approval and are expected to be considered in late July or early August. Because recommendations of the commission tend to be followed by the City Council, Wednesday night's approval was a critical step in Huntington Beach's effort to become a destination for vacationers and business travelers.
Compared to many city public hearings that have become raucous over development- and traffic-related issues, Wednesday's meeting was surprisingly quiet and underpopulated, given the magnitude of the Waterfront.
Under consideration were approval of a developer agreement and conceptual master plan, which was adopted unanimously, and a conditional use permit for the first of four planned hotels--the 296-room Hilton. That was approved 5-1, opposed only by Commissioner Geri Ortega, president of the growth-control group Huntington Beach Tomorrow. Commissioner Kirk Kirkland was absent.
The commission also voted unanimously to realign Walnut Avenue between Lake Street and Beach Boulevard.
Before about 100 residents and merchants, the commissioners expressed some concerns about the project, particularly the density of the residential portion--35 units per acre. But only two of more than 25 speakers who addressed the commission found fault with the project.
Most supporters said they are tired of traveling to other cities to celebrate wedding receptions and award banquets because Huntington Beach lacks such hotel and conference facilities. They also said they are tired of seeing vacationers and business travelers spend their money outside Huntington Beach. A Holiday Inn and the Huntington Beach Inn--the latter would be razed for the Waterfront--are the only city hotels with banquet facilities.
Despite a flyer circulated by the Tomorrow group that urged residents to "let the Planning Commission know your concerns about a Miami Beach development in YOUR neighborhood on YOUR land," the Waterfront was overwhelmingly supported by those who attended the hearing.
"Contrary to the flyer, the Waterfront will help us keep our taxes down and our city solvent," said Jan Shomaker, president of the Fountain Valley-Huntington Beach Board of Realtors, who was applauded by the audience.
Added longtime resident Frank Zeller, "It's aesthetically marvelous. . . . So let's get the shovels out and do it!"
In the minority were Tomorrow members Douglas Longevin and Paul Picard. Longevin, a downtown property owner, said he likes the look of the Waterfront but expressed concern about the capacity for traffic on existing roads. "I think you're going to have trouble getting people in and out of there," he said.
Newport Beach-based Robert Mayer Corp. and the Huntington Beach Redevelopment Agency, which owns the land, are partners seeking to build four hotels, a public health club, a shopping plaza and 875 condominiums at the site.
Since the Waterfront idea was unveiled last year, city officials have scaled back earlier plans that included a high-rise hotel near the pier. They now view the Mayer plan as the launching pad for efforts to revitalize Huntington Beach's aging downtown--the site of many aborted renaissance plans.
The Waterfront already has met with more community acceptance than Pierside Village, a planned beachfront spread of shops and restaurants that growth-control advocates fought unsuccessfully to the California Coastal Commission. Pierside has yet to break ground.
The strongest opposition to the proposed Waterfront development already has been appeased. About 400 mostly elderly residents of the Mayer-owned Driftwood Beach Club Mobile Home Park initially fought the development. But a relocation plan was overwhelmingly accepted by park residents last month.
In return, according to city planner Hal Simmons, Driftwood residents agreed to refrain from criticizing the project. Driftwood residents, as well as Mayer and the city, must agree on various aspects of the Waterfront development, Simmons said. The City Council must still accept the Driftwood relocation agreement, along with the environmental impact report.
Situated between Beach Boulevard and Huntington Street at the edge of the city's 336-acre downtown redevelopment area, the Waterfront would be built from west to east in seven phases over nine years.