Forest Avenue project on hold for now

Sotheby’s real estate brokerage could take over large Landmark Plaza space. Council waiting for report.

February 15, 2008|By Barbara Diamond

A Forest Avenue commercial building that has struggled to keep its retail tenants may have its next incarnation as a real estate brokerage.

After being rejected by the Planning Commission, the proposed realty office on the ground floor of Landmark Plaza in downtown Laguna Beach was on the verge of approval by the City Council Feb. 6, but the council voted to wait for a parking report and additions to conditions of approval before making a final decision.

Built originally to house a bank and then replaced by retail operations, including a Banana Republic store, the space is an anomaly on Forest Avenue, which is composed of quaintly fronted, small and varied retail establishments.


The Planning Commission denied the proposal by Commissioner Robert Chapman based on the Downtown Specific Plan, which discourages offices on the ground floor along the avenue.

“The Planning Commission wanted this to be retail, but retail hasn’t been able to make it there,” said Forest Avenue merchant Mark Christie. “There have only been two and one was rent-free and couldn’t make it.”

Project architect Kirk Saunders said the reason retail has failed is partially due to the size of the building.

“It is too big for the usual retail on Forest Avenue and not big enough for an anchor,” Saunders said.

The proposed project was appealed automatically to the council because Chapman is on the Planning Commission.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman agreed the space does not conform to the neighborhood character of the downtown if operated as a single entity and observed that the ambience might be improved if the space was divided, and she wanted proof that adequate parking would be available for customers and a phalanx of real estate agents who would work at the site.

There was no opposition to the project voiced by the public at the council meeting.

A majority of competing realty agents who spoke at the Planning Commission hearing opposed the project or cautioned that it would turn out to be a franchise environment.

Chapman envisions a fusion of art and architecture under the banner of Coast Sotheby’s International Realty in the 3,000-plus square-foot space.

He said he had invited the Visitors Bureau and the Festival of Arts to participate and plans to promote the arts.

“This is to be a real estate brokerage, but the plan will create interest on Forest Avenue,” he said. “It is merchandising.

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