IRVINE — The City Council delayed a vote Tuesday on whether a mixed-use project with two 15-story buildings across the street from the John Wayne Airport can move forward.
The council on Tuesday, July 11, voted 5-0 to postpone the decision for two weeks, as Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Schott and Councilman Jeff Lalloway said they needed more time to study the impact of the buildings on air traffic safety.
“This seems to me to be a very nice project, and one that’s sort of needed in our city,” Lalloway said. “The only issue here is that there’s another component of it, and that component deals with safety.”
The seven-acre development, along MacArthur Boulevard just north of Campus Drive, would feature a 386-room luxury hotel, an office building, ground-level shops and restaurants, as well as a parking structure. The proposed office building is 253 feet and the hotel 204 feet.
The Federal Aviation Administration has determined the project poses “no hazard to air navigation,” according to an Irvine city staff report. The buildings are considered to be an obstruction, but could be mitigated by lighting and markings, the FAA stated.
The city’s Planning Commission approved the project June 15. But the seven-member Airport Land Use Commission for Orange County, which shares authority over developments near the airport with the city, had unanimously opposed the project on April 20, requesting that the hotel height be reduced by 47 feet and the office by 95 feet.
The commission’s flight tracking data showed that some planes were flying as low as 305 feet over the project site, which raised safety concerns.
Instead of redesigning the buildings, the project developer asked the City Council to override the commission’s decision as allowed by state law. The override requires a two-thirds vote, which means the project needed support from at least four of the five council members Tuesday.
The council agreed the project will have positive impacts on the city’s economy.
Irvine estimates the hotel would eventually generate about $1.3 million annually in transient occupancy taxes and $316,000 in hotel improvement district assessment fees. The project could also generate about $270,000 per year for the city in property tax and $100,000 in sales tax.
“I really like the work (the developer has) done, and this hotel, in particular, is going to be terrific,” Councilwoman Melissa Fox said.
However, Schott and Lalloway said they received the full FAA report just before the meeting and didn’t have time to review it. They both said the land use decisions should be taken seriously.
Schott proposed postponing the council vote for two weeks.
Tim Straider Jr., who represents the developer, pointed out that several buildings around the project site are taller than the proposed hotel and office.
City Attorney Jeff Melching said Irvine would have no liability even in the event of an aircraft accident even if the council overrides the land use commission decision. The city may still face hefty litigation costs if sued, he added.
Sean Cao, CEO of developer Great Far East, said it hasn’t been decided what hotel brand would go into the building. He said it would be a high-end hotel such as Renaissance.
Construction is expected to take three years to complete, Cao said.