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Irvine Co. Proposes Golf Resort on Newport Coast

June 21, 2003|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

The Irvine Co. plans to build a 115-acre luxury resort next to its prized Pelican Hill Golf Club in Newport Beach as early as next year, Orange County's largest developer announced Friday.

The "intimate golf resort," as the company is calling the villa-style complex with 204 guestrooms and 120 homes, will be the latest addition to what is becoming an Orange Riviera along the county's coast.

From the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point, which opened two years ago, to the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa, which opened in January, properties meant to attract well-heeled travelers are increasingly popular with developers. Because environmental issues for the area have largely been resolved, battles over the project are not expected.

"You do not have many places in the world with access to the kind of climate and environment we have in Orange County," said Eric Prevette, president of the Irvine Co. resort properties. "Pelican Hill [resort] will complement some of the other resorts on the Orange [County] coast."

The company has envisioned the project for decades, Prevette said, but it decided to move forward now because it expects improvements in the economy soon that will give a boost to tourism as well. The resort could start operating as early as 2006 if construction begins in late 2004, as the developer said.

The project, if approved by the county, would sit on the shallow bluffs of Newport Coast overlooking the ocean and the Pelican Hill Golf Club, two 18-hole public courses owned by the Irvine Co.

It will be built in phases and include a hotel of 40 single-story bungalows just off Newport Coast Drive, the developer said. The architecture will resemble Spanish Revival-style homes of the 1920s and '30s. The resort also will include restaurants, a spa, conference rooms and shops. North of the inn, the company plans to build 120 time-share homes.

The Irvine Co. expects swift approval. The California Coastal Commission approved a general plan for the area in 1998 that included resort development and thousands of acres of open space, but development plans must be endorsed by the county.

Newport Beach annexed the 9,300-acre area known as the Newport Coast Resort Community last year but left zoning and planning to the county so the city's smaller planning department would not be overwhelmed.

Newport Beach officials said Friday they expect little or no public opposition to the project.

"The density is very low and the traffic impact will be almost nonexistent," said Councilman John Heffernan, a supporter of the Greenlight Initiative, a slow-growth measure approved by Newport Beach voters in 2000, before annexation of the project area.

Mayor Steve Bromberg said he also supports the project: "If you are going to have a five-star resort, that would be the place. Pelican Hill is gorgeous, absolutely pristine."

The Irvine Co. sent informational brochures to Newport Coast residents and public meetings on the project are scheduled to begin in mid-July.

Pelican Hill follows a string of luxury resorts that have sprung up along Orange County's coast in recent years such as Dana Point's St. Regis, the Hyatt in Huntington Beach, the Montage Resort and Spa in Laguna Beach and the recently refurbished Balboa Bay Club, a venerable private club that added a hotel to its facilities this year.

The glut of luxury hotels with rates upwards of $225 a night -- weekend green fees at Pelican Hill are $250 -- has some analysts worried whether there is enough demand, but resort operators are confident of the region's appeal.

It is the local beach culture's carefree style set against glamorous surroundings, said Maggie Feldman, director of public relations for Balboa Bay Club and Resort. "It is so casual," she said, "yet so upscale."

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