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Council Votes 3-5 Against 2nd/PCH Proposed Development

(December 21, 2011, updated from front page reports) -- Following a more than five hour agenda item (carried LIVE on, the City Council rejected 3-5 (Yes: Garcia, DeLong, Gabelich; No: Lowenthal, O'Donnell, Schipske, Andrews, Neal; Johnson absent) a motion by Councilman Gary DeLong that sought to approve a 2nd/PCH (Seaport Marina Hotel site) owner/developer-sought zoning change and development entitlements for a mixed use proposed development. The Council also voted 4-4 (motion failed), declining to certify an Environmental Impact Report on the proposed development.

The Council voted 8-0 (motion by Councilwoman Schipske) to ask city staff to return within 60 days with way to begin a process of revising SEADIP (southeast area zoning).

Barely two hours before the start of the Council meeting, learned of a Dec. 19 letter from the CA Coastal Commission's Long Beach office to City Mgr. West which disclosed that "[i]n discussions with city staff over the past year, Commission staff has "consistently stated concerns relative to the proposed project at 2nd and PCH." The letter stated in pertinent part:

[Coastal Commission] staff has recommended that any significant changes to the use and development standards for this parcel should be considered only as a component of a comprehensive review and LCP [Local Coastal Plan] update of the existing SEADIP [overall zoning plan for the nearby SE LB areas]...

Increases in traffic at 2nd and PCH and other nearby intersections have been raised by project opponents and is certainly a legitimate Coastal Act issue relative to public access to and along the coast.

...Regarding wetland parcels we believe that it is extremely important to determine the extent of wetlands and the potential or lack of potential for development of wetland parcels...

The fact that the Coastal Commission had raised those issues with city staff wasn't disclosed by city management during the EIR comment period, or Planning Commission proceedings (in October and November) which produced a sharply-split vote and began appeals...which city management scheduled to be heard on Dec. 20 (just days before Christmas).

The letter concluded: "We are hopeful the City Council will consider our comments [items cited in letter text linked below] and delay action on the proposed project in order to allow City and Commission staff to continue discussions on developing a comprehensive LCP [Local Coastal Plan] amendment for SEADIP." obtained the letter and immediately published it on our front page. To view letter text, click here

No mention was made of the existence of the Coastal Commission staff's letter until members of the public began speaking. Some speakers referred to the letter...but city staff continued to remain mum about it until roughly four hours into the hearing, after public comment had ended, when Councilman Patrick O'Donnell asked about the letter

Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal then pursued the point, asking Development Services Director Amy Bodek directly what issues Coastal Commission staff had raised with city staff, and Ms. Bodek summarized the points listed in the Coastal Commission staff's letter.

That bombshell was eclipsed by another. During public testimony, Lyon Communities (which roughly six months ago purchased the "Pumpkin Patch" property on PCH) testified against Council approval of the project and urged a comprehensive zoning plan for the area. Represented by government affairs advocate Mike Murchison, Lyon representatives offered to advance the costs of a SEADIP zoning revision for the "four-corners" PCH/2nd area.

Supporters of the proposed 2nd/PCH development bristled, calling Lyon a late-comer to the proceedings while the 2nd/PCH property owner had invested millions of dollars to pursue his project over a period spanning four years in its most recent iteration on top of four years previously under another developer.

Asked by Mayor Foster for its position on the Lyon Communities offer, the 2nd/PCH developer indicated it was willing to pay a share of the SEADIP revision costs but wasn't willing to have its project covered by that SEADIP revision.

The Lyon Communities position was detailed in December 16 letter from Lyon Communties Chair/CEO Frank Suryan, Jr., who wrote in pertinent part:

As you know, Lyon Communities and the City of Long Beach have a strong and successful history of working together to bring thoughtfully planned development to the City. Lyon is committed to continuing that collaboration and has recently acquired interests in several properties in the immediate vicinity of the proposed 2" d PCH project (the "Project").

We have looked closely at the Project, its potential to limit future coordinated planning for both public and private properties within the Project area, and its uripersuasive argument that traffic conditions inevitably must be made worse. As a result, we are writing to state our objections to the Project's approval and ask that you eifher (1) deny the Projecf or (2) continue the hearing on fhe Project for 6-12 monfhs so that a broader comprehensive planning effort can be initiated and given serious consideration as an alternative to the Project proposal." [three other owners of property in the Project area joined Lyon in its objections and request for a continuance.]

Clearly, it is uncomfortable for landowners to openly express concerns over the development proposals of another landowner. However, the Project's environmental impacts have profound implications for its future retail, office, and residential neighbors. This is particularly true of the traffic impacts that the City Council is being asked to overlook through the adoption of an unsupportable Sfatement of Overriding Considerafions. Specifically, we believe the following:

  • The Project is virtually certain to be challenged in court due to its inadequate environmental analysis, thus delaying the consideration of more compfehensive planning proposals.

  • The proposed LCP Amendment is not likely to be approved by the Coastal Commission because of its failure to plan comprehensively for fhe Project area, again causing delay.

  • Even if the Project proves to be financeable and buildable, it will impose serious traffic Impacts on residents, commuters, and businesses which will adversely impact economic activity.

  • Approval of the Project will have a chilling effect on future planning in this area because it will create physical barriers to comprehensive traffic solutions which might be possible with a broader planning effort and a "larger canvas."

    In contrast to the Project, our planners and traffic engineers envision comprehensive planning which will generate substantial reinvestment in this area, increase economic activity and revenues to the City, AND improve, rather than worsen, existing traffic conditions. We ask that you seriously consider the preparation of a specific plan for the area generally bounded by the Seal Beach border, 2nd Avenue, Shopkeeper, and Alamitos Bay, plus the "four corners" Intersection at 2nd and PCH and publicly owned parcels along Marina Drive. This is precisely the type of project alternative that should have been evaluated in the project's EIR, as it provides the opportunity to better mitigate not only those traffic impacts generated by the Project, but also, to some degree, those that exist today. The results of such a planning effort would include:

  • Revitalization of the remainder of the properties, both public and private, in the Project vicinity;

  • Significantly greater economic activity than produced by the Project;

  • Opportunities for public/private partnerships which will benefit not only individual landowners, but the community and the City as well;

  • A broader vision for a true "gateway" to the City, with a mix of uses oriented to Alamitos Bay and the ocean; and

  • Improved public access to the coast with an increase in coastal-related and visitor-serving opportunities.

    ...[W]e offer our assistance to the City to facilitate the private portion of that effort. Toward that end, Lyon offers to advance the costs of the preparation of a Specific Plan for this broader planning area should the City Council agree to defer consideration of the Project.

  • Councilman Robert Garcia was first to speak in Council discussion. He asked that the developer consider including a theater (for live performances) that the developer initially proposed but removed when the Planning Commission downsized the project. Garcia also asked about LEED [environmental] certification for the project.

    Councilman Gary DeLong said that he wanted to have an up or down vote on something, said his decision was based on what he believes the public wanted at the location regardless of what he prefers. Councilwoman Gabelich then spoke in support of the project.

    When the vote was called on rezoning the parcel and approving the development's entitlements, they were the only Councilmembers in support.

    In October, a sharply split Planning Commission narrowly supported the proposed 2nd/PCH development, including a 12 story (150 ft.) building in an area now zoned for 35 feet. Project opponents, including the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, called the proposed development "spot zoning" and (through two attorneys) said the zoning changes first required changing the underlying SEADIP zoning with Coastal Comm'n approval. Among those testifying in opposition were appellants LCWLT Trust Exec. Dir. Elizabeth Lambe; publisher Heather Altman; and Mary Parsell (El Dorado Audubon); Jeff Miller; Melinda Cotton; and Kerrie Aley. Also in opposition: Gary Shelton Ann Denison, Gordana Kajer and Joe Geever.

    Testimony supporting the development came from former Mayor Beverly O'Neill (statement read into the record) and retired City Mgr. Jim Hankla (PressTelegram letter cited by project supporter/former Harbor Commissioner John Hancock; area investor Steve Conley; Belmont Shore businessman Bill Lorbeer; CPA/former LB Chamber Bd. Chair Blake Christian. Further to follow.

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