A mixed-use project with two 15-story buildings in Irvine, across the street from John Wayne Airport, finally received a green light.
The City Council on Tuesday, Nov. 28, voted 3-1 in favor of overriding the Airport Land Use Commission for Orange County’s decision and allowing the development of The Landmark project by developer Great Far East. Mayor Pro Tem Lynn Schott opposed it, and Councilman Jeff Lalloway was absent.
“The project is safe,” Mayor Don Wagner said. “The project is good for Irvine.”
The council’s approval came after an independent consultant, Johnson Aviation, evaluated the air traffic safety issues and recommended doing so.
“I still can’t get comfortable with the project,” especially because the Airport Land Use Commission and the state’s transportation agency had safety concerns, Schott said.
The proposed 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.
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.
The issue, however, was the heights of the two buildings — the office tower at 253 feet above ground level and hotel 204 feet — when they are so close to the airport.
The FAA has determined that the buildings “would not be a hazard to air navigation” as long as they are marked and lighted properly, according to the agency’s report.
“The City of Irvine should accept the Federal Aviation Administration’s Determinations of No Hazard to Air Navigation for The Landmark hotel and office structures as the only authoritative source of aviation safety findings regarding The Landmark Project,” Johnson Aviation stated in its report.
Great Far East pointed out that several buildings around the project site are taller than the proposed hotel and office building.
The city’s Planning Commission approved the project June 15. But the seven-member Airport Land Use Commission, which shares authority over developments near the airport with the city, unanimously opposed the project on April 20, requesting that the hotel height be reduced by 47 feet and the office by 95 feet.
The airport 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.
Lalloway, who showed safety concerns about the project, proposed hiring an independent aviation consultant in July. Great Far East agreed to pay for the city’s consultant expenses.
“It’s difficult for our businesses to have to go through these hoops as I said to get to this point,” Councilwoman Christina Shea said Tuesday. “It’s very costly to them.”
Schott at Tuesday’s meeting brought up concerns about additional traffic the project may create.
“Weighing all that, I can’t justify that the benefit outweighs what I see as costs both in terms of traffic and safety concerns,” she said.
Great Far East CEO Sean Cao said the site had already been zoned for such commercial uses when his company bought it in May 2015. The company plans to build less office space than allowed to alleviate some traffic concerns, he said.
No start date has been set for construction, which could take a little less than 600 days, Cao said. He will continue to work on the design for six to nine months while monitoring economic trends and how other commercial developments are doing in the area, Cao said.
“We are at the ending period of a cycle,” he said. “We want to be cautious.”
Cao and Great Far East’s project partner, Landon Wright, said they hope The Landmark will rekindle the aging MacArthur Boulevard.
“The project probably alleviates traffic in large measure because folks don’t have to fly into that airport and then go drive out to other places,” Wagner said. “They can stay local, do conferences local and etc. Having vetted all those issues and having now completely alleviated, in my mind, any concerns over safety, I’m quite happy to support the project.”