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Laguna Beach

 Volume 14, Issue 96  |  December 2, 2022


Plans to change owner, remodel building at Taco Bell approved with conditions

By SARA HALL

For residents craving tacos in The Village neighborhood, instead of heading to the franchise that’s been on the corner of Cleo and South Coast Hwy for half a century, they may soon be dining in an updated building, but still with a similar cuisine.

The Planning Commission on Wednesday (June 16) unanimously approved a conditional use and other permits to remodel the existing Taco Bell restaurant building at 699 S Coast Hwy, and change ownership from the national franchise over to The Taco Stand, a local chain based out of San Diego. 

A recommendation will be forwarded to City Council for final consideration and approval.

Commissioners discussed, revised, and added a number of conditions to the project. Most of the conditions were geared toward lessening the impact on neighbors and making it aesthetically appropriate for the community.

“If this is moving forward, then let’s make it as nice as possible, not just for the people who would enjoy the restaurant, for the neighborhood in general,” said Commissioner Jorg Dubin.

Remodel plans include various modifications and upgrades such as demolition and conversion of existing interior dining floor area to outdoor patio seating, new interior storage area, a request for outdoor seating and motorcycle parking credits, parking lot upgrades and restriping, landscape/hardscape improvements, a request for the sale of beer and wine, and new signage. The signage plan will return under a separate permit application.

The use is relatively the same, slightly changing from a fast food chain to casual dining, noted Planning Manager Scott Drapkin.

Some of the modifications require parking incentives, Drapkin explained, and the applicant is asking for five parking credits for the proposed outdoor dining, which is planned after removing a large portion of the building along South Coast Hwy.

“Ironically, the building at that location in 1967 looked very similar to where they’re going (with) what they’re proposing now, in that it was a takeout window,” Drapkin pointed out.

Around 1982, that space was enclosed, Drapkin added.

Back in the 1960s, there was a big patio with a fire pit and a walk-up window, said Marshall Ininns, the architect working with the applicant.

“It’s gone through many generations of remodels and additions to the surrounding of this building,” Ininns said. 

Plans to current exterior

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Permits were approved this week to remodel and change ownership of the Taco Bell at Cleo Street and South Coast Hwy

This is a family-owned business that offers a different style and environment than Taco Bell, Ininns said. 

The Taco Stand has seven locations mostly in San Diego County, and one near the Orange Circle, one in Las Vegas, and one in Miami. Inspired by the taco stands of Tijuana and adventures along the Baja Peninsula, the taqueria’s founders wanted to bring an authentic taco experience north of the border.

Commissioner Ken Sadler questioned why Taco Bell pulled out after more than 50 years in the location. Although Drapkin inquired about the chain’s exit, he didn’t get an exact answer. He anecdotally commented on the eating habits of today’s youth leaning toward healthier options and unique menus.

Commissioner Steve Goldman met with the applicant architect and asked the same question.

“The response was that the current tenant was not keeping up the quality standards of the franchise, so they de-franchised him,” Goldman said.

The land is owned by one family, who lease it to another group, who then leases it to the Taco Bell franchisee and the neighboring surf shop owner. It’s an odd setup, but it works for them, Ininns said. 

“It’s got a layered approach to ownership and control,” Ininns said. “And so they chose to go with my client versus the franchisee with Taco Bell.”

Some neighbors complained that Taco Bell “had let the place go,” Sadler added, particularly concerning trash issues.

Many of the conditions and much of the commission discussion stemmed from neighbor complaints with the current tenant.

Conditions added or discussed by the commission include:

--River rock pilasters and the upgraded ornamental fencing on Cleo.

--Stuccoing of the Sleepy Hollow retaining wall.

--Adding a tile mural on the wall on Cleo, with or without private donations, as the Art in Public Places piece.

--Adding two street trees on Cleo.

--Stopping alcohol service at 9:30 p.m.

--Delivery trucks should unload in parking lot and not on public streets.

--Revise the parking lot site plan to move the space adjacent to the sidewalk into the parking lot to the west and relocate the entry stair to the restaurant to a curb stair at the corner, so that it’s open to the public without having to go through the parking lot.

--Trash enclosure shall be provided with a trellis or other cover.

--Add pots and landscape vegetation integrated into the patio, where possible and practical.

--Change the predominantly white building to a softer color that has a better contextual relationship with the neighborhood.

The applicant’s representative agreed to all of the revised conditions.

Plans to trash area

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Adding a cover of some kind and improving the area by the trash enclosure was a key issue in the discussion

There was a lot of discussion about potentially covering the new trash enclosure with a roof of some kind.

Code isn’t absolutely precise in regard to what a structure is, but it provides a reasonable definition for staff to make a determination that with a roof it’s possible that it meets the requirements for a structure and therefore would be in the rear setback, Drapkin said. But there is some flexibility with the design of a trellis-style roofing that’s connected to the fencing, he explained, so it could be a more creative covering.

“I do believe that it would better that area,” Drapkin said.

Even if it were a trellis, not a solid enclosed structure, it would still technically need a variance because of the definition of structure and it would be within the setback.

“But if the Planning Commission made an interpretation that it was not a structure, that might be a possibility,” Drapkin added. 

There was consensus among the commissioners that the trash area with a trellis-like covering is more of an enclosure and not an actual structure.

Discussion about alcohol service, a new usage at the proposed The Taco Stand, revolved around the concern that it would become too bar-like.

“Particularly in conjunction with the open patio, as you get later into the evening, the concern was that they didn’t want this to morph into a bar, basically, at night,” Sadler said.

Hours of operation end at 10 p.m., Ininns commented, so not nearly as late as a bar. Also, the alcohol will be a minor percentage of the food service, he added. 

The applicant’s desire is to serve beer and wine out on the terrace, so a gate and fencing or a boundary would be required. 

Condition 27 basically requires that the sale of alcohol is associated with the sale of food at all times, Drapkin said. A cutoff time could be incorporated into that condition, he added. 

Plans to concept renderings

Click on photo for a larger image

Renderings courtesy of Marshall Ininns Design Group/City of LB

Initial artist renderings of the proposed The Taco Stand restaurant at 699 South Coast Hwy

Another neighbor concern was about the overall design, Sadler said, questioning why re-stucco over the entire building and “lose the look of the original slump block stone that was used”?

After Sadler asked why they decided against maintaining that look and texture, Ininns said because it’s outdated.

“Because I haven’t used slump stone in 30 years,” Ininns said. “It’s sort of a dated deal…I was trying to do something that just cleaned it up and gave it a much more modern façade.”

The slump stone also collects a lot of dust and dirt, which then easily rubs off on people if they touch or lean up against the building.

It is a clean look, almost austere, Sadler said. He also suggested adding something that gives the building a little more character.

Commission Chair Susan McLintock Whitin recommended changing the color of the building, which was proposed as a stark white. It’s pretty bright and reflective, she said. 

Ininns said they aren’t “married” to the white, and that the color scheme is flexible.

Whitin suggested considering the context of the surrounding buildings and residential walls. Something that has a better contextual relationship, color-wise with the neighborhood, she said.

Through working with the neighbors and collecting suggestions, they also want to upgrade the iron fence around the back with four river rock-like pilasters and a lantern, similar to the river rock and lantern fixture at the end of Cleo Street at Ocean Front. The top of the iron fence is stylized to look like a wave running across the top, Ininns explained.

Along the blank wall on Cleo, they are also proposing a tile mosaic, which has the support of neighbors for the development and installation.

Commissioner Steven Kellenberg suggested adding landscape along the sidewalk or around the patio to soften up the look and provide shade.

Commissioners also agreed to make a condition of approval that requires the delivery trucks to load and unload in the parking lot and not block the street, which neighbors also raised as a current complaint.

 

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

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