Laguna Beach Offers Lease to Build Parking Structure at Presbyterian Church

Laguna Presbyterian Church lit up during the night of hospitality. Photo by Mitch Ridder

By Megan Miller, Indie Special

The Laguna Beach City Council is set to consider a deal with the Laguna Presbyterian Church on Tuesday for the use of land at Third Street.

The item is scheduled for the May 10 meeting and could pave the way for the City to use properties at 355, 395, 361 and 363 Third St. across from the Susi Q Senior Center. Although not a formal lease agreement, the memorandum of understanding would set in motion a plan to add 90 spaces in a multi-level structure on land that currently houses about 35 spaces, said Pro Tem Mayor Bob Whalen on Tuesday.

Ed Sauls, a church volunteer who worked closely with Whalen on negotiations, estimated the structure would cost the city about $10 million. According to the ground lease contract, the church would receive approximately 2% of annual gross income for the first two years, approximately 10% for the next 20 years, and 20% for the remainder of the 50-year term.

“The church and the city haven’t approached this as a financial investment priority,” Sauls said. “We really approached it as a parking benefit for the community and the church.”

Parking solutions have been debated for years with little progress beyond completion of the village entrance. Council members expect to see architectural and financial plans for a structure at this site this year.

A survey commissioned by the city council and distributed late last year found that 57% of business owners supported the city’s efforts to build new parking spaces. A related survey of residents found that 74% of respondents favored the creation of a master parking plan.

In March, Whalen and Mayor Sue Kempf formed a subcommittee of council in March to further address the city’s parking concerns. Last week, council members approved a lease with Hometown America Communities for the land at 30802 Coast Hwy. The agreement grew out of subcommittee talks and will add 52 public parking spaces starting in the summer.

However, the agreement between the city council and Laguna Presbyterian predates the subcommittee, Whalen said. The “on and off talks” with the church and church committees reflect years of negotiations that were led by Whalen and council member Peter Blake, culminating in a nearly 50-year agreement.

Village Laguna has not yet taken a position but wants to know more about the terms of the agreement, said board chair Anne Caenn.

“It’s concerning that we don’t get more information before they make this commitment,” Caenn said.

Some argue that a downtown parking structure will not solve congested parking along the coast, as day-trippers and beachgoers may continue to prefer residential parking due to its proximity to the ocean.

Plans to build a parking structure on the lot are tentative and still subject to the city’s rigorous design review process, Whalen said.

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