Council approves live-work units for artists

Public comments are contentious, but divided officials move canyon project forward.

April 02, 2014|By Bryce Alderton
  • Wearing red shirts in a show of unison, supporters including project developer Chris Dornin, second from left, stand outside the Laguna Beach City Council chambers before a rule to approve a 30-unit artist live-work project in Laguna Canyon during Tuesday's City Council meeting.
Wearing red shirts in a show of unison, supporters including… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

Despite strong opposition from neighbors, a split City Council gave the green light Tuesday to a 30-unit live-work space for artists in Laguna Canyon.

The council voted 3-2 to approve sculptor and developer Louis Longi's apartment project. The council upheld the Planning Commission's January decision — also a 3-2 vote.

Mayor Elizabeth Pearson and Councilmen Kelly Boyd and Steve Dicterow voted in favor. Councilwoman Toni Iseman and Councilman Bob Whalen dissented.

Pearson called the number of existing live-work projects "pathetic."

"We've built less than a dozen live-work units in the 18 years I've been a public servant," Pearson said.

Whalen questioned the project's size and said he believes it is inconsistent with the Laguna Canyon Annexation Area Specific Plan.

"Artists' live-work is a good thing, but my concern is it's too much of a good thing at this location," Whalen said. "It's too big, but I want to find a way to make it work. We're asking too much of this project. Louis has done an amazing job of persevering to get to where we are tonight. Affordable units make the project more difficult to finance."


The Laguna Canyon Property Owners Assn. and a resident appealed the Planning Commission's approval, claiming the project will not fit with the area's rural, small-scale character.

After the vote, Longi took turns hugging supporters, who wore red T-shirts that read, "Support Artist Live-Work."

"Relief," Longi said.

Project proponents and opponents turned out in droves — public comments took a little more than an hour and a half.

Laguna is losing artists, thus the project would provide an opportunity for them to remain in town and align with the city's history as an artists' colony, supporters said.

Opponents repeatedly stated that they support live-work projects, just not one of that scale in that part of the canyon.

Plans call for two, two-story buildings, which include 17,243 square feet of interior live-work space on two lots totaling 36,750 square feet connected by decks above a parking garage.

The project at 20412 and 20432 Laguna Canyon Road complies with existing zoning and development standards, which allow for light-industrial use, according to the city staff report.

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