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DANA POINT : Resort Plan Goes Before Commission

February 04, 1992|LEN HALL

A proposed $500-million resort straddling Coast Highway in the posh Monarch Beach section of this coastal city could clear a major hurdle tonight if it wins approval from the city Planning Commission.

The commission will consider the specific plan for 225-acre Monarch Beach Resort, one of two major resorts in the planning stages for Dana Point. The project, proposed by the Japanese firm Nippon Shinpan, includes a 400-room, five-star hotel, 238 residential units, a 27-acre city park and a 13-acre extension of the Links at Monarch Beach golf course.

Two weeks ago, the five-member commission and the developer halted negotiations after four hours with one issue--the project's timeline--still pending. Because resort projects often change hands before completion, the city staff wants assurance in writing that the project will be built in the stages currently outlined in the proposal, said Ed Knight, Dana Point's director of community development.

"We want to make sure the hotel gets built before the residential portion of the project," Knight said. "The hotel is very important to the city for the revenues it offers."

The city is already considering a scaled-back plan of a project approved unanimously by the Orange County Board of Supervisors and the California Coastal Commission in the mid-1980s. Knight said he wants to make sure the project does not get cut back again at some later date.

"The city had land set aside for two hotels, and now they (the developer) are telling us the project needs more residential, that there is not enough value in the land for two hotels," Knight said. "We said, 'OK, you can have more residential, but you have to build the hotel first.' "

Under the compromise, the developer can break ground on the residential construction after the hotel has been started. Knight estimated that the hotel construction would take 18 to 20 months and the residential construction about nine months.

The new, scaled-back plan for the resort has won accolades from the Monarch Beach community and the City Council. Gone from the original plan are about 800 hotel rooms and 300,000 square feet of commercial space, all of it replaced with housing in two separate sections of the development--about 100 units surrounding the hotel and another 138 near Monarch Beach Plaza.

"It's a dramatic change from the original plan," Mayor Mike Eggers said. "I don't think the old project was financially feasible, certainly not in today's market."

What was once thought to be the most controversial issue facing the project--how to house the hundreds of low-income workers it will lure to the city--was taken up last month by the City Council. In a move considered unprecedented in Orange County, the council ruled that the resort owners must provide rental assistance to one-fourth of the estimated 600 full-time workers employed by the resort.

The newest controversy to surface centers around the view corridor from the residences along Camino del Avion to the ocean. Homeowners in the Corniche development claim their ocean views could be cut off by the resort's condominium development.

"That seems to be a sensitive issue," Planning Commissioner Carlos Olvera said. "But that will be taken up later. This approval is for the envelope of the development. How they fill that envelope is still open to negotiation."

The commission will convene two hours early tonight, at 5 p.m. Still to come after tonight's meeting will be consideration by the City Council on Feb. 25 and the California Coastal Commission.

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