A controversial resort approved by Laguna Beach would get more scrutiny by a powerful environmental agency that has stalled other coastal projects if a staff recommendation is accepted next week.
The California Coastal Commission on April 11 will consider a new recommendation by its staff that it hold a public hearing on whether the Treasure Island project complies with state and local coastal protection laws. After that hearing, the commission could require changes in the project.
Critics unhappy with the city's February approval of Treasure Island sought the commission review in an attempt to scale down the project, which they contend is too big and too ritzy for the seaside area.
As planned, the complex "is going to be a big, fancy facility," said opponent Ann Christoph, a former Laguna Beach mayor. That "is not the character of South Laguna, which is rustic, which is low-key, which is not super-expensive."
Treasure Island includes a 275-room hotel, 17 homes and 14 condominiums planned for about 30 acres in south Laguna Beach. The site is among the last relatively undeveloped seaside stretches in Laguna Beach.
By taking their challenge to the Coastal Commission, environmental and community groups are following a strategy that has delayed other Orange County projects for years, including development on the Bolsa Chica mesa and part of the Irvine Co.'s project above Crystal Cove State Park.
Treasure Island would be delayed at least one month if the commission votes to hold a hearing, and potentially for years if it later concludes the project violates coastal laws.
"We have spent nearly 18 months working diligently with the city of Laguna Beach to design a project that meets the needs of the local coastal program, the city and the general public," said John Mansour, a vice president of the Phoenix-based developer Athens Group. He declined to further discuss the Coastal Commission challenge.
In their challenge to the commission, critics contended the project would violate various local and state coastal laws. Commission staff members agreed that the project deserves scrutiny, but only on two issues: whether the grading of bluffs would alter the land's natural contours and whether plans include a resource management program that would protect an offshore state marine park.
Laguna Beach City Manager Kenneth C. Frank, a supporter of the project, said he was satisfied with the recommendation to the commission.
"I'm pretty pleased with the staff report," he said. "The appeal raised a dozen issues, perhaps, and the staff has disagreed with [nearly] every one of those."
However, the commission--should it decide to hold a hearing--would have the right to find fault with any facet of the project related to the coast.
That's exactly what some critics are hoping will happen.
"We are a dying breed," said Michael Beanan, vice president of the South Laguna Civic Assn., one of three groups challenging the project. "When you look up and down the coast, most little coastal communities are disappearing. It doesn't have to be that way."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
If the California Coastal Commission accepts its staff's recommendation next week, the luxury Treasure Island resort in south Laguna Beach could face another round of regulatory hearings and public scrutiny. The project was approved by the city in February.
The planned 30-acre project includes
* A 275-room multistory hotel
* Two restaurants
* 17 homes
* 14 condominiums
* Public beach access