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Faux lighthouse plans may run aground

Newport Beach wants the centerpiece in a new public area to rise 71 feet, but a coastal panel's staff says the tower should be scaled back to 55 feet, still 20 feet over an area height limit.

March 05, 2013|By Jill Cowan, Los Angeles Times
  • Newport Beach's plans for a new development include a 71-foot-tall faux lighthouse tower.
Newport Beach's plans for a new development include a 71-foot-tall… (City of Newport Beach )

Plans to build a 71-foot faux lighthouse overlooking Newport Bay are coming up short with state coastal officials who believe the structure would be too tall and overshadow the charm of the surrounding waterfront community.

The tower, which would not actually function as a lighthouse, is seen by city officials as the visual centerpiece for new community buildings and a public marina on a piece of city-owned land that is presently home to an aging mobile home park.

The plan for the fake lighthouse comes before state coastal commissioners on Wednesday, but the panel's staff has recommended that it be rejected unless it is scaled back to 55 feet.

Newport Beach Public Works Director Dave Webb said the city has permission to build a tower of up to 35 feet — the current height limit for the area — as part of the commission's approval for Marina Park. The city has applied for an exception to build up to 73 feet.

To settle for a 55-foot tower, Webb said, "doesn't make sense for the additional cost."

But if commissioners side with their staff, the city's plans for an "iconic" structure at the long-planned Balboa Peninsula community center may get short shrift.

According to the report, the lighthouse as proposed would impact "public views and community character."

A 55-foot lighthouse, on the other hand, would be tall enough to house a tsunami warning device the city proposed for the structure, without more than doubling the current height limit.

In its application, the city included analyses of nearby structures that also exceed the height limit, including the 81-foot high Balboa Pavilion cupola and a 43-foot-tall tower at the Balboa Inn.

But, according to the report, most of the six buildings the city mentioned were built before the passage of the Coastal Act in the 1970s, which gave the commission authority over coastal areas, and all were built before the city's Shoreline Height Limitation Zone was established in 2005.

The report recommended that the commission deny the city's application for the 71-foot structure. It cited the city's application, which argued that the extra height would provide "a navigational element for watercraft; an [enclosure] for telecommunication and tsunami warning device equipment; a focal point; and an established iconic landmark."

Ultimately, the report said, the tower didn't need to be more than 70 feet tall to achieve any of its stated purposes and would set a bad precedent — a view shared by some residents who have argued against the park.

The tsunami warning equipment is 54.25 feet tall, the report said.

In addition to the lighthouse tower, the park would include a 23-slip public marina, a multipurpose community building and a Girl Scout building, among other amenities. The project will displace residents living in about 60 mobile homes.

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