The Planning Commission has recommended council approval of Mark Orgill's proposal to add almost 2,000 square feet to a building in Laguna Canyon that would be converted into living space for Laguna College of Art + Design students and a restaurant.

Council review is required because a coastal development permit is needed for a second-story addition to the existing building, which exceeds the 12-foot height limit in the Civic Art District of the Downtown Specific Plan. The extra height may be allowed with a conditional use permit.

The commission, which is also responsible for reviewing design in the Downtown Specific Plan area, voted unanimously at the Jan. 9 meeting to recommend approval of the project. Design elements such as landscaping, lighting, materials, color palette, location of bike racks and compatibility with the surrounding buildings will come back to the commission for approval.

"We were all delighted to see more student housing appearing in conjunction with the art college," said Commissioner Anne Johnson. "I think we are up to 56 now."

Johnson said the project's proximity to downtown is a plus.

The project at 793 Laguna Canyon Road is located in a four-building commercial center, with the largest space, Building Three, occupied by interactive agency Fuse and portions of the building used for LCAD artist studios, storage area and three one-bedroom loft units. The proposal is limited to Building One, currently used by LCAD as an art gallery.

If approved, the building and the 2,763-square-foot addition will be converted to four, 863-square-foot, two-bedroom units and a 1,200 square-foot restaurant with indoor seating for 27 and outdoor seating for 15.

Plans for the restaurant do not include full table service, but will offer gourmet and fresh foods made to order and to go, according to the city staff analysis. There will be a beverage bar for coffee, tea and juice.

The restaurant will be open to the public, but is primarily intended for college students and faculty, with options for pre-paid meal programs. Hours of operation will be from 6 a.m. to midnight seven days a week.

Commissioner Linda Dietrich expressed pleasure at the early-morning opening.

Most of the changes to the building will be on the interior, but the outside will be spiffed up.

Brickwork shown on the project rendering is a reference to brick work on other buildings in the commercial center, Orgill said.

Orgill also owns [seven degrees], just down the road apiece from his commercial center.

The council must make five findings to approve Orgill's request for an exception to the 12-foot- or one-story height limit in the Downtown Specific Plan. He is proposing to exceed the limit by 12 feet and seven inches on the addition, which is located at the rear of the building. Proximity to the canyon hillside will minimize the visual impact of the height of the structure, according to staff.

A requested reduction in required parking, which is an incentive offered by the city to encourage outdoor seating at eating establishments, also must be approved by the council, as will an unannounced artwork, which will be proposed to fulfill the city's Art-in-Public Places requirement for commercial developments.

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