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Possible alternative plan for Crystal Cove in the works

Developers, officials and local activists embark on mission to assemble a less-intrusive, more affordable project.

[Article from The Daily Pilot 12-9-2000]

The Daily Pilot

CRYSTAL COVE -- As a proposal to build a luxury resort at Crystal Cove winds its way through a state approval process, local environmentalists have begun discussions with the developer on a less-intrusive project that would offer more affordable housing to the average beach lover.

San Francisco-based Passport Resorts, which formed Crystal Cove Preservation Partners to build the project, has agreed to consider funding its development in Crystal Cove through private donations and low-interest loans.

"It's an alternative way to help finance the deal and then pass the savings along to reduce room rates," developer Michael Freed said. "There's no disagreement between us and some of the environmental groups that the project should be small and educationally based."

Freed, who secured rights from the state in 1996 to build in the historic district, has seen his $35-million resort stall after opposition from the Sierra Club, the Alliance to Rescue Crystal Cove, the League for Coastal Protection and Orange County CoastKeepers.

Those very groups -- along with Freed, Laguna Beach Councilwoman Toni Iseman and state officials -- came together in late November to begin hashing out the alternative proposal.

Environmentalists must raise about $35 million to fund the renovation of the 46 cottages, which were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

That same year, Irvine Co. sold the 3.4-mile beachfront to the state's Department of Parks and Recreation for $32 million.

The state, through the California Costal Commission, must approve any project.

"It's really difficult to raise those kind of funds these days," state parks spokesman Roy Stearns said. "It's a lot of money."

The state has scheduled a public information meeting Jan. 18 for the Freed project now on the books.

The developer said rooms would cost an average of $375 per night, which activists say is too pricey for the average person.

Chris Bradley, the Newport Beach architect in charge of drafting the alternative plan based on public input, said the rooms should be no more than $100 a night.

Newport Beach Deputy City Manager Dave Kiff was skeptical the project would be feasible at that price level.

"If they want low-cost accommodations, it should be a campground," Kiff said.

Under either proposal, the residents of the cottages would be forced out of their quaint, seaside homes. Alliance president Laura Ann Davick, appointed to spearhead the fund-raising efforts, said those living in Crystal Cove must face that fact sooner or later.

"It's pie in the sky" to think the residents will stay, Davick said. "Everybody that has a handle on reality knows the party is over."

Laguna Beach residents have also taken an interest in Crystal Cove because of its Laguna Beach ZIP Code and telephone prefix, Iseman said.

"People feel that state money should not be used for a private resort," she said. "I value the historic district and feel it must be preserved."


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