California WaterfrontAge: Urban Coastal Design — Dana Point and Oceanside.
This is the third post of a series in Urban Edginess in which I reproduce a column I had written in a magazine entitled WaterfrontAge published 40 years or so ago by the California State Coastal Conservancy of which I was the Executive Officer at the time. In my prior two posts, I introduced the magazine and its goals, and the concept of urban waterfront design and its difference from more rural coastal protection.
Here, I discuss two specific urban waterfronts. As can be seen in the recent aerial photograph of Dana Point below my optimism as to future development seems misplaced as the two small green swatches labeled Heritage Park and Lantern Bay Park the open space and parkland we required and helped improve so long ago as models for good urban waterfront design have been scarcely replicated. Nevertheless, the photograph of these coastal bluff top open space and recreational areas demonstrate the wisdom of our approach. Imagine what this would have been like if we had not intervened.
THROUGHOUT THE years I have effectively have been involved in coastal management, I have constantly been struck by how an otherwise commonplace waterfront development can be transformed through the inclusion of public access, both visual and physical. While the land developer’s three basic rules for successful development are location, location, and location, the rules for the public governing the shoreline should be access, access, and more access. Unfortunately, the land developer’s locational requirements and the agency’s access requirements are often considered incompatible. But on the waterfront, private development and public access can work to enhance each other. In urban waterfront design, the rule of access has a powerful effect on the rule of location. On a site near the ocean, for example, if the ocean view is blocked or if the people using the site can’t reach the beach safely and easily, then the site’s proximity to the water is of little value to developers.
Lantern Bay Park Dana Point,
In California, some recent developments have integrated location and access with, I believe, spectacular results. I would like to describe two of these.
Lantern Bay Park.
Above Dana Point Harbor in Orange County rises a sheer bluff. A small coastal canyon splits the face of the bluff and the property behind in two. Some time ago, a developer carved terraces in the bluff to get the fill for the harbor; the bluff now looks like a giant amphitheater facing the harbor. Despite the radical grading, the bluff remains unparalleled for viewing part of the southern California coastline, which could rival the Amalfi coast.
Lantern Bay Park and The Coast of California.
The owner of the property originally intended to build single-family housing on the terraces up the bluff. This would have made the site unusable to the public. Following a long struggle with the California Coastal Commission, the developer agreed to set back the housing well behind the bluff edge on the half of the property upcoast of the canyon; on the downcoast half, he agreed to build a large park and hotel complex. On the upcoast section of the bluff, the developer has constructed a magnificent series of viewing rings connected by a sinuous path winding down from terrace to terrace. The viewing platforms resemble nothing else that I have seen in their extravagant celebration of public access. If one stands on the topmost viewing area, one can see the wide arc of the coast stretching to the south as well as the pathway crossing the canyon and snaking up into the still uncompleted park downcoast. An elegant iron fence separates the viewing terraces from the building pads behind the bluff, which are prepared to take what will certainly be expensive housing. Townhouses and other structures already completed on other portions of the property provide an almost Mediterranean flavor to the area.
Lantern Bay Park,
The variety of style and type in the cosmopolitan collection contrasts markedly with the Visually uninteresting development similar in the area surrounding this property. Further north, in Dana Point, access requirements imposed by the Coastal Commission have reshaped what promises to be another notable coastal development. Already, one of the most elegant hotels in California sits on a spectacular bluff. The original developers wanted to build housing there instead, but the Coastal Commission demanded that the oceanfront property be devoted to visitor-serving development. The irony is especially sharp because the hotel promises to elevate the rest of the development into the sort of resort community developers love.
Hotel at Lantern Bay Park, Dana Point.
Dana Point is growing into what some have called the California Riviera. In this case, access requirements benefited not only the people of the state but also the community of Dana Point and ultimately those who own property there.
View of Heritage Park, Dana Point.
In the community of Oceanside, in San Diego County, a much different urban waterfront project is going forward, though it too shows the advantages of integrating public access with private development. Instead of responding to development pressures, as in Dana Point, Oceanside plans to create an urban waterfront that will encourage new development. The City expects its waterfront to benefit physically and economically. Oceanside became interested in the project because its waterfront was badly deteriorated and economically depressed. The city wanted to investigate the commercial potential of the beach, which was not being realized. The first plan which the City Redevelopment Agency prepared focused on the residential and commercial uses of the waterfront property. However, some of the city’s residents were against the massive development proposed, and the Coastal Commission was bothered by the lack of open space, inadequate public access, and problems with traffic and circulation.
The Coastal Conservancy was called in to develop a program with the city that would resolve these conflicts. After conducting extensive economic analyses, a series of citizen workshops, and a design competition, the Conservancy produced a plan that met most of the objections.
Children’s Playground, Oceanside Strand.
The final plan approved by the city of Oceanside embarked on an extensive restoration effort. One part of the plan seeks to increase the usefulness and the value of Oceanside’s waterfront by converting a solid block of developed beachfront into a public park, called the Strand Park. As in Dana Point, the park would offer public access close to the commercial and residential development.
View of Bluffs and Children’s Playground.
As it happened, however, one large parcel of property in the designated block, containing an old apartment building, was too expensive to buy easily. The difficulty this presented was resolved when the new owners, an investment group, made it clear that they intended to rehabilitate the building in a manner consistent with the city’s plans.
The city of Oceanside and the Coastal Commission have approved this change in the plan, and Strand Park will be designed around the new development. The Conservancy has loaned the city $900,000 to create the park. The requirement of visual and physical
access has not, in the Oceanside project, prevented development. On the contrary, the expensive renovation that this investment group is planning would have been unlikely and certainly would have been less profitable if the City hadn’t been working to enhance the waterfront area as a whole.
Oceanside Beach and Pier at Sundown.
In addition to these economic benefits, the project has brought Oceanside some less expected rewards. The Oceanside Strand Restoration Study received a Meritorious Program Award from the California Chapter of the American Planning Association and a citation for an “outstanding contribution in design” from the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
In the two very different projects at Oceanside and Dana Point, the rule of access manages to serve both art and commerce and to offer substantial rewards to the public at large, to the waterfront community, and to the private developer.
Note: This entire issue of California WaterfrontAge can be found at: http://scc.ca.gov/webmaster/coast_ocean_archives/0101.pdf