August 5, 2007
Laguna Beach City Council
RE: Plans for Aliso Creek Inn redevelopment
In May we suggested to the Council that a significant opportunity for public input and development of planning criteria should occur before Athens Group planners proceed further with their work on planning the Aliso Creek Inn property. We were hoping for a city session, but since the Council did not organize that event, Village Laguna conducted a workshop to develop a list of goals and concerns related to this redevelopment project.
The open meeting was held at Fred Lang Park community room on June 25. Athens Group representatives were invited but declined to attend. Subsequently the Board of Village Laguna appointed a committee to compile the workshop comments into this letter.
We feel it is important to convey this information at this stage, as the applicant is in the process of refining the proposed project and preparing to resubmit the planning documents to the city.
We believe that the overall goal of our planning efforts should be to preserve the serenity and beauty of the canyon and make it accessible to all in a manner that does not compromise the resource.
The comments of the group address overall planning, the relationship of the project to Aliso Creek, and the architecture of the new structures.
1. Residential development is not appropriate in the canyon which is zoned for hotel, recreation and open space for good reason. There are the dangers of a flood plain surrounded by extremely steep mountainous slopes. The beauty and drama of this landscape is best enjoyed by visitors leaving light footprints rather than permanent occupants who bring much greater impacts. Residential development
involves not only the construction impacts including grading, paving and clearing of native vegetation—it will also introduce more lighting into the traditionally dark canyon, add fire hazards such as fireplaces and combustible materials, and require increased fuel modification and other fire protection programs. Domestic animals will have their own impact on the wildlife. There will be impacts of increased traffic and parking needs generated not only by the residents but their guests and household workers. There will inevitably be conflicts between the public use and the residents who want their privacy.
2. 2. The city should use the existing general plan and existing zoning as the guide for this development. The development proposals should not be looked at as opportunities for re-zoning or up-zoning. Any Conditional Use Permits should include enforceable conditions of approval. Heights should conform to city standards. Density and volume should be restricted. Intensity of development should be related to the limitations of the site. There should be an evaluation of the parking demand that allows for a generous allocation of parking spaces.
3. The viability of the resources of the canyon should be the primary consideration in evaluating planning proposals. The potential of a new project to improve city tax revenues will follow from a well-thought-out proposal. Tax income considerations should not dictate the decisions.
4. All environmentally sensitive habitat areas should be preserved. Mitigation for damage to these areas does not adequately compensate for habitat loss. Projects should be designed around these habitat areas, including areas for fire protection. Environmentally sensitive habitat areas should not be used for fuel modification.
5. The dedication of open space on the hillside areas is an excellent proposal by the applicant. This will preserve environmentally sensitive areas and complete the Greenbelt in the South Laguna area.
6. Archaeology, paleontology and historical remains should be researched thoroughly and preserved either in place where appropriate or on exhibit for public benefit where appropriate.
7. Plans should include components that provide for moderate cost facilities—hostel, hotel accommodations and restaurants in an affordable price range, as well as providing an affordable golfing price structure that has already been promised.
In recognition of the housing needs of an increased number of service employees for the expanded hotel and restaurants, provision of affordable housing should be included off-site.
8. The Trail to the Sea should be included as required under the General Plan and should include educational and interpretive viewpoints. Any service roads should be independent of the trail system. Access should be open to the public—gated communities/areas should not be permitted. Laguna Beach parking permit holders should be allowed parking similar to the garage at Treasure Island Park.
9. The YMCA Parcel (Camp Elizabeth Dolph/Thurston Grove) is a historical site and should be used as a youth camp facility as intended when the land was donated in the 1930s. Access to the camp should be provided via the Trail to the Sea. Swapping Camp Elizabeth Dolph for land in the “Aliso Lots” Hobo Aliso Ridge area above Driftwood Drive is not appropriate, because of the loss of the historic site, and because a facility in proposed location will have severe impacts on ESHA and the residential neighborhood.
10. The safety considerations of a traffic signal at the Coast Highway entrance should be examined.
11. The existing topography should be preserved. There is a concern regarding the impacts of raising land above the flood plain on the functioning and appearance of Aliso Creek.
12. Native plants should be used in new landscape areas and at the golf course.
13. Grading should be minimized, avoiding generation of cut material, aggregate mills, blasting, and export of materials. Any boulders generated in the grading should be saved.
14. Construction mitigation procedures should be provided and enforced.
15. Remediation and restoration of the creek should be a high priority. This restoration would include working with the County and South Coast Water District to remove landfill at the coastal estuary site, bringing the “lagoon” back to Laguna. Water quality should be significantly improved such that the tidewater goby can again inhabit the lagoon at the mouth of the creek.
16. Alternatives to creek channelization should be pursued. The SUPER Project should not be relied on to make the creek efforts on this project viable, since its implementation has not been ensured or approved. Watercourses should flow freely and naturally.
17. Runoff from the project site and the golf course should be reduced to a minimum. The use of cisterns to capture/re-use dry weather and storm flows as has been done at Pelican Hills should be included
18. Groundwater contamination by the golf course should prevented. Alternatives to use of toxic chemicals on the golf course and other landscaping should be pursued.
19. The effect of global warming impacts on flooding zones of the creek should be evaluated.
20. Reclaimed water should be used for the project’s irrigation, and the possibility of using it for other purposes (toilets, air conditioners, fire suppression) should be investigated. The City should work with the South Coast Water District on improving creek water quality by reclaiming and treating polluted water.
21. Laguna isn’t just Craftsman style houses, isn’t just cottages. We should look to other sources for inspiration for the design in this canyon. This secluded spot is like nowhere else in Laguna. The work of architects such as Lamont Langworthy and Chris Abel, and the Halliburton house overlooking golf course provide other examples of site-sensitive design. Rather than copying cottage detailing, the new buildings could feature innovative design inspired by the beautiful and unique canyon setting.
The architectural design should:
Be environmentally sustainable, beyond state-of-the-art, reflecting that Laguna is now an Earth Trustee City
Use nontraditional architecture for variety, aesthetics, and freedom from the constraints of conventional materials
Be appropriate in scale and density to the natural setting, far from the crowd-- organically connected, subservient to the surrounding serenity
Use natural materials
22. While we appreciate the applicant’s respect for the history of the site as it relates to the Thurston homestead, we recommend removing the Thurston House re-creation idea unless there is sufficient information to do an accurate replica, including the interior, and the original site of the building is available. History of the Thurstons could be taught with photo exhibits instead.
The Secretary of Interior’s standards on historic preservation emphasize the importance of retaining existing historical features and recommend against “changes that create a false sense of historical development.” Preservation of Camp Elizabeth Dolph, a still-existing historical site would be a better approach to acknowledging the history of the area. Attached are the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Reconstruction of Historic Properties.
We appreciate your consideration of these comments. We will forward them to the Athens Group and are prepared to meet to discuss the project as you and/or the applicant may suggest. We are hopeful that by sending this information now we can all work toward a positive helpful planning process for this exceptional property.
We suggest that the Council schedule a public workshop on this project very soon, so that the community will have an opportunity to provide input to the applicant at this early stage.
Standards for Reconstruction
1. Reconstruction will be used to depict vanished or non-surviving portions of a property when documentary and physical evidence is available to permit accurate reconstruction with minimal conjecture, and such reconstruction is essential to the public understanding of the property.
2. Reconstruction of a landscape, building, structure, or object in its historic location will be preceded by a thorough archeological investigation to identify and evaluate those features and artifacts which are essential to an accurate reconstruction. If such resources must be disturbed, mitigation measures will be undertaken.
3. Reconstruction will include measures to preserve any remaining historic materials, features, and spatial relationships.
4. Reconstruction will be based on the accurate duplication of historic features and elements substantiated by documentary or physical evidence rather than on conjectural designs or the availability of different features from other historic properties. A reconstructed property will re-create the appearance of the non-surviving historic property in materials, design, color, and texture.
5. A reconstruction will be clearly identified as a contemporary re-creation.
6. Designs that were never executed historically will not be constructed.