At its meeting on Wednesday, June 28, the Design Review Subcommittee will review a proposal that would transform a property with a single-family home built in 1927 into a boutique motel overlooking the Municipal Pier.
The property, located at 402 Pasadena Court within the Pier Bowl, spans 18,339 square feet and includes a four-level building that has been converted into a triplex since its initial construction. The site also features a “character-defining” garden, according to the staff report, and is currently eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The proposed project would construct what would be known as the Sea Cliff Motel and Restaurant—a Spanish Colonial Revival nine-unit motel that would add two buildings to the property, as well as a 48-seat indoor and outdoor restaurant, a rooftop deck, a pool and spa, and other features. There would also be 27 spots for parking, with 13 street parking spaces that qualify to be included with nine new ground-level garage spaces, three uncovered spaces and two more in the remaining garages.
Largely, the proposal adheres to the city’s policies and design standards, with additional modifications mentioned in the staff report.
On Tuesday, June 27, the San Clemente Times spoke with Jim Holloway, a project consultant who served as the city’s Community Development Director for 28 years, and project architect Tony Massaro of the Costa Mesa-based Mars Hill Studio.
Holloway also mentioned his previous work as a consultant for other recent projects in San Clemente, such as Rare Society. He described his role as like a navigator on a ship, doing course corrections when necessary on behalf of the property owner, who’s owned 402 Pasadena Court for roughly four years.
“(The owner’s vision) for the project is exactly what the (city’s) policies indicate, which is this really classy, Spanish Colonial Revival, visitor-serving and visitor-accessible project in the Pier Bowl, cleaning up a nice, historic building,” Holloway said. “It’s been deteriorating year by year, and he wants to rehabilitate it.”
Holloway added that he had always held a personal interest in the property, which has been shown to city officials multiple times in the past as part of varying projects but hasn’t been tangibly changed.
“Finally, the owner—who has already spent tens of thousands of dollars painting and dealing with black mold, sewage problems and all kinds of things,” Holloway continued, “he asked if I could help and I said, ‘That’s an interesting project. I’d love to help you with that.’ ”
Holloway made sure to mention the project team isn’t seeking to receive waivers or exceptions from the city during the process.
402 Pasadena Court sits in the Coastal Recreation Commercial 1 (CRC1) Zone and Architectural-Visitor Serving Commercial District Overlay Zone within the Pier Bowl Specific Plan, which “pretty much demands a publicly accessible project,” according to Holloway.
The proposal complies by providing a stairway and walkway between Pasadena Court and Avenida Victoria, with a view deck in the middle and another view deck above the planned restaurant.
Tony Massaro, project architect, added that the other parts of the project’s design were greatly influenced by the city’s pre-existing plans and design guidelines, as well as the results of previous proposals on the same property that were shut down.
Contrary to most situations where Massaro has the freedom to analyze a property and use his vision to design a project, the architect said he didn’t have many options this go-round.
“We’re trying to thread the needle. We’re trying to get something that is really aesthetic, and works for the owner’s program and development needs,” he said. “At the same time, we’ve got to get something that we know that’s acceptable to the city and the (California Coastal Commission).”
Massaro has had previous experience designing Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in places near Carlsbad and Newport Beach, as well as at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa, where he modeled the school’s Scott Academic Center after the Santa Barbara County Courthouse.
Both Massaro and Holloway spoke about meeting with city planner David Carrillo and other city officials during the months leading up to Wednesday’s DRSC meeting, from which they received valuable feedback that helped whittle down the list of modifications the city has for the project.
At one point, Massaro went through each of the CRC1 standards with officials to show how the project met the requirements, he recalled.
Holloway talked about using 3-D modeling to show how their project wouldn’t majorly interfere with views of the ocean and how the project team intended to “rehabilitate primary cultural resources,” such as the main building itself and a water feature.
“Knowing the city and having the experience I’ve had, it’s not easy (to develop projects),” said Holloway. “But I think the approach we took is that we spent a lot of time up front planning, rather than just throwing some spaghetti against the wall early on to see what would stick.”
After working on the bigger issues, the team submitted the other applications and documents to the city to begin the public review process, receiving comments from city staff in the process.
Holloway said he expected the DRSC meeting to consist of a back-and-forth discussion on design issues, such as the city’s recommendation of using landscaping or an off-white color on retaining walls to “visually separate” the older residence from the new development. The historic property’s retaining wall is characterized as covered in a textured stucco finish with a pure white color.
“What we would be recommending is a smoother stucco finish again with the white wall, because in San Clemente the white walls really are distinctive, but we would be able to distinguish the new stuff from the old stuff, just by the texture of the stucco,” said Holloway. “That’s a pretty good example of the kind of discussion (we’ll have).”
He added that concerns expressed by neighbors and the San Clemente Historical Society will be expected.
Historical Society president Larry Culbertson also spoke with the SC Times on Tuesday, detailing the group’s issues with the project, specifically the potential removal of the historic garden area, parking, view impacts, and an overall negative impact to the area.
Taking out the garden would decrease the property’s historic integrity needed to possibly be listed on the National Register, according to Culbertson. Additionally, he said the 14 on-site parking spaces would not be enough to accommodate all the motel and restaurant employees.
Culbertson referred to a previous proposal in 2005 that consisted of adding six more units to the property, without the additional restaurant and amenities, which the Historical Society also didn’t support but was shut down by the Coastal Commission regardless.
“When somebody buys a historic property, they have a right to develop it, somewhat, but it’s got to be within the (U.S.) Secretary of the Interior’s standards (SOIS),” Culbertson said. “We maintain that what they’re proposing does not fit within the guidelines of the Secretary of the Interior.”
The project team submitted a Historical Resource Technical Report prepared by a third-party consulting firm, according to the staff report, which concluded the proposal was consistent with the SOIS. However, staff did provide further recommendations that would help the project have more consistency with the standards.
If the project only proposed adding six units, that would be one thing, Culbertson said. But the current plan is “like the Taj Mahal,” he added.
“It’s important to note that there hasn’t been any great threat to a historic resource like this since the last one I was talking about, back in 2005,” said Culbertson. “We’ve been keeping watch and the city’s been very good about not allowing over-development of any historic resources. This project is way outside the box.”
Nonetheless, the project team, including Massaro, feels confident about their prospects with the city.
“You never can tell. That’s why we go through these (meetings),” Massaro said. “We feel positive, because we feel like we were very diligent in meeting the city’s aesthetic and technical requirements.”