A proposed 30-unit, live-work space for artists in the canyon would provide environmental benefits, according to the sculptor who wants permission to build the development.
Louis Longi said his project would include a way to capture storm water runoff from Laguna Canyon Road before it reaches Laguna Canyon Creek, which borders the eastern edge of his property.
Plans call for several bioswales — ground depressions where water would gently seep into the soil and be filtered before it runs into the stream — surrounding the two, two-story buildings. The buildings would span 11,000 and 7,000 square feet, respectively.
Peer-reviewed studies from geologists, biologists and water-quality engineers — filed with the city — show that the project meets environmental and zoning requirements. Nevertheless, opposition has been strong from those who believe it will change the rural, low-density nature of canyon life and potentially add traffic and pollution.
The project's fate rests with the Laguna Beach City Council, which will vote to affirm or deny an appeal from John Albritton, president of the Laguna Canyon Property Owners Assn., at a future public hearing.
The Planning Commission voted 3 to 2 in favor of the project Jan. 8, but the vote was appealed to the council.
Albritton, who has lived in the nearby Sun Valley neighborhood for 25 years, says the project would double the neighborhood's population and is in stark contrast to the specific plan that canyon residents drafted more than 20 years ago.
That plan, he explained, emphasizes that buildings and homes maintain the area's small-scale, rural character.
The two parcels, at 20412 and 20432 Laguna Canyon Road, respectively, sit near the Canyon Animal Hospital and Laguna Koi Ponds and are zoned for light industrial uses, including mixed live-work spaces. The proposed 36-foot buildings also meet the city's height and flood requirements.
Resident: Out of character with plan
Albritton said the development violates the intent of the Laguna Canyon Annexation Area Specific Plan.
"We consider light industrial as one [family] working out of a home," Albritton said. "This is exaggerated beyond anything allowed."
It was difficult for canyon residents to work out of their homes at the time the specific plan was written, thus allowances were made, Albritton said.
Longi said he purchased the property in 2008 from John Hamil, former owner of Canyon Animal Hospital, for $1.65 million.
Hamil, vice president of the Laguna Canyon Property Owners Assn., also opposes the project, saying in a letter to the City Council, "Our specific plan's intent was to support artist live-work by including the rural home occupation portion of the plan, not by building a 30-unit apartment building."
Longi responded, "I would never have bought the land if I knew [Hamil] would oppose me."
Hamil and Albritton said they have nothing against artists, just the project's scale.
"Our neighborhood, which includes many successful artists, supported this land use when the applicant came to us with his plan for approximately eight units," Hamil said in his letter.
"If building an eight-unit development on this property is not economically feasible, maybe this huge project could be located on the large property on the east side of Laguna Canyon Road at Big Bend. The depth of that property and the line of sight on Laguna Canyon Road would make a building of this size, mass and density much less obtrusive."
The city, in a staff report for the Jan. 8 Planning Commission meeting, said Longi and architect Horst Noppenberger altered the project to reduce the appearance of mass and scale by designing pitched rooflines to provide spaces to see the nearby ridgeline, trees that will shield the structure from view and ground cover that will allow rain runoff to seep into the soil instead of flowing into Laguna Canyon Creek.