After nearly a decade of study, Orange County supervisors Tuesday approved an overhaul of Dana Point Harbor that will add restaurants, shops and parking, and shrink the number of boat slips in favor of those that can handle larger yachts.
The $120-million plan, which must still pass muster with the California Coastal Commission, fits in with Dana Point's plans to revitalize its aging commercial core along Pacific Coast Highway, city officials say.
"This is the best of the best of all our efforts," said Supervisor Tom Wilson, who represents the area and spearheaded the harbor project.
Built in 1971, the county-owned harbor is showing its age with deteriorating buildings and inadequate parking, officials say. Local merchants have asked for years that the county modernize the place.
"I wish it could start next week," Jim Miller, who owns a coffee shop in the harbor area, told supervisors before they took a unanimous vote to approve the plan.
The improvements include wide pedestrian promenades, a festival plaza and an additional 30,000 square feet of commercial space in the harbor's core next to Doheny State Beach.
The existing 80,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space would be replaced or remodeled.
Parking spaces would increase from 3,949 to 4,703, including a 610-space parking structure.
In the water, the harbor would lose a little more than 500 slips but gain a pair of dry-stack storage buildings capable of housing as many as 400 boats each.
The buildings are planned for the eastern edge of the harbor, near Doheny.
One goal of the project is to shrink the nearly yearlong wait for large boat slips in the port. Under the plan approved Tuesday, the harbor will house 128 fewer boats than its current capacity of 3,000 but gain nearly 3,000 linear feet of space for large vessels.
The harbor is bordered by the Dana Point Headlands, immortalized by author Richard Henry Dana, who came to the area in the 1800s and wrote a seafaring chronicle about it, "Two Years Before the Mast."
At 280 acres, Dana Point Harbor is small compared with Newport Harbor, or Long Beach and Marina del Rey in Los Angeles County, and it has retained its small-town atmosphere over the years.
County officials said they expected the port to retain that flavor despite the remodeling, which with existing facilities will focus on modernization rather than expansion.
Funding for the construction will be detailed as the plan moves along, Wilson said. But the bulk of the money will come from slip fees, leases and sales of bonds.
The Coastal Commission is expected to consider the plan this year. Work could begin as early as next year and is expected to take 10 to 12 years.
Most of those who spoke to the board Tuesday, including Dana Point city officials, commended Wilson and the county for its work.
But Eugene Jerry, who co-owns the 30-year-old Dana Point Shipyard, said he was concerned about his future. Under the county's plan, he would be forced to move his business into a smaller building and lose most of his parking spaces.
"We are not doing anything for the existing business," said Jerry, 68. "I am sorry to stick out like a sore thumb. But I am afraid this thing is going to roll on through, and later they are going to say, "Well, Gene! Why didn't you say something?'"