Faux 71-foot-tall lighthouse in Newport Beach ‘overkill,’ critics say
City officials in Newport Beach are considering whether to make exceptions to the community's bayfront building height limits to make way for a planned 71-foot-tall lighthouse on the Balboa Peninsula.
The lighthouse is included in renderings of the planned Marina Park, even though the California Coastal Commission rejected the tower when it approved the rest of the project in June, citing a city rule that limits waterside buildings to a height of 35 feet.
The city Planning Commission will hear arguments Thursday about whether it should make an exception for the lighthouse, the Daily Pilot reported.
Although the lighthouse would not be an official navigational aid, city leaders say the tower would become a landmark and is a critical element in plans for the park.
Deputy Public Works Director Dave Webb said the Newport Beach officials might return to the commission for action once the city amends its coastal land-use plan.
State regulators and neighbors are warning of problems: If the lighthouse is built, they say, it could set a bad precedent, block residents' views and change the peninsula's character.
"We just think it's overkill," said Elliott Bonn, who lives across Balboa Boulevard from the proposed community sailing center and park between 15th and 18th streets.
The proposed exception to the building-height rules would be for the Marina Park project specifically, a point that city officials hope will allay concerns about setting precedent.
The lighthouse would help visiting boaters and beachgoers find public amenities, according to a city staff report. But in that report, planners say the lighthouse would be "nonfunctioning," referring, presumably, to its low-wattage lamps.
Orange County has no working lighthouses, according to a national directory maintained by the University of North Carolina. Oceanside has a faux lighthouse.
Flanked by buildings about half its height, the tower would taper from 18 feet wide at its base to 8 feet at its top, according to the project's environmental impact report.
Residents across Balboa Boulevard look toward the bay and the bluffs above. Even without the lighthouse, the sailing center would likely block or obstruct some views.
Although the city is not obligated to preserve private views, it has to follow state regulations that protect public views. From public vantage points, the lighthouse "is not bulky, obtrusive or otherwise objectionable in nature," the staff report said.
"That's a crock," Bonn said. "If it's not, then how is anybody going to see it?"
Fellow peninsula resident Louise Fundenberg agreed.
"They ought to keep everything low," she said. "It makes vision better for everybody."
City planners and a citizens committee spent years designing the $6.8-million Marina Park project, and debated over the building's height.
-- Mike Reicher, Times Community News
Photo: A drawing of a proposed 71-foot-tall faux lighthouse at Marina Park. Credit: City of Newport Beach