San Clemente Residents Reject Beach Project

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Opponents say a proposed retail and office project would have clogged beach access and destroyed views.

    The fate of a plot of land at North Beach will remain in limbo for another year, thanks to voters' rejection of a proposed retail and office project that supporters insisted would revitalize the local economy but opponents said would clog beach access and destroy views.

    The City Council voted 3-2 in the summer to approve the Playa del Norte project at North Beach, but opponents forced the issue onto the ballot. On Tuesday, the project was defeated by 57.7 percent of voters.

    Playa de Norte would have included 24,280 square feet of retail space, 13,590 square feet of restaurant space, 4,290 square feet of office space and 6,810 square feet of utility and storage space on the Triangle Site occupied by the city's North Beach public parking lot and the El Camino Real site, which includes the vacant lot between Ichibiri's and Kaylani Coffee Shop.

    The project also would have included a 93-space parking lot on the Marblehead Coastal site, now a vacant lot below Marblehead Coastal Park.

    With voters turning down the project, the council will have to wait a year before considering a new project for the site.

    Measure A supporters argued the project would revitalize the long-stagnant North Beach business district with more than $300,000 annually in property and sales taxes, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in increased parking revenue.

    "It will provide the economic energy that North Beach needs," said Bill Hart, of the Pro North Beach Vision Coalition.

    "I've been in San Clemente for 30 years and I've watched North Beach decline due to the fact there's not enough business there to provide the foot traffic to create the business opportunities that folks down there need," Hart said. "This idea was well-conceived, and the city owns surplus land down there that's under-utilized."

    Critics said it would ruin one of the few remaining great views and easy access to Orange County coastline.

    "This is the reverse 'Field of Dreams,' -- build it and they will stay home," said Jim Smith of the Vision San Clemente group, which campaigned against Measure A.

    "The mantra here is let's clean up North Beach, so the city says -- or at least three of the council members say -- let's sell those acres to a private developer," Smith said.

    Smith pointed out that city officials used their eminent domain powers to acquire the property in 1970 for public beach parking.

    Hart argued the project would have actually improved access to the beach.

    "It's 50 percent open space and there's a beautiful ocean view plaza" in the plans, Hart said. "It will be a better ocean view than anything that exists there today."

    The project would have added two restaurants with ocean views, a cafe and up to a dozen boutique shops like a bakery or wine and cheese store, Hart said. The only offices would have been for the restaurateurs and store managers, he added.