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Orange County Focus

NEWPORT BEACH : City Won't Change Building Heights Cap

May 31, 1994|BOB ELSTON

City residents who live on the bluff overlooking the ocean can rest easier knowing that their view cannot be obstructed by taller buildings sprouting up along Mariners Mile, a stretch of West Coast Highway that extends from Newport Boulevard to Dover Drive.

City leaders decided last week that the city's law limiting building heights to 26 feet will remain unchanged, as residents had demanded.

The controversy reached its zenith three weeks ago, when 175 people packed City Hall to express disapproval when the City Council considered a change in the law setting building height limits in that area.

Mariners Mile business owners were seeking the change, which could have paved the way to seeking city permits to exceed the height limit, according to city officials. But the owners have since backed off.

"There is so much dust that filled the air that (Mariners Mile) property owners want to step back and let things cool down for a while," said Steven Sutherland, co-chairman of the Mariners Mile Assn. "This was not worth fighting with our neighbors over."

Residents who spoke passionately before city leaders were clearly happy with the outcome.

"We achieved a major victory," said Arthur De La Loza Jr., a resident of the Newport Heights neighborhood and a deputy city attorney in Huntington Beach. "The homeowners let the merchants know that we were willing to go to the mat on those issues that affect views."

There is a basic 26-foot building height limit on properties along the inland side of Mariners Mile. However, commercial property owners can build to 35 feet if they get permission from the Planning Commission.

To get that approval, the developers must prove during a public hearing that residential views would not be blocked by the additional height.

To complicate the issue, property owners along that stretch of highway must set aside a 12-foot strip between the front edge of their land and the edge of West Coast Highway, in anticipation of some future plans to widen the highway.

Property owners complain they can't realize the full value of their land because development is boxed in by the land and height restrictions.

The city at some future date will consider a resolution that may relax parking and landscaping requirements along Mariners Mile to compensate for the loss of 12 feet of land.

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