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Density Watch: City Staff Revises Some Of Its Proposed Land Use Changes, Now Seeks Four And Five Story Bldgs. In Comm'l Areas Along Parts Of Bellflower Blvd., LCD With Three Stories At Spring/Palo Verde

Staff wants Planning Comm'n voted recommendations on July 21 to send to Council for decisions


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(June 16, 2017, 10:20 a.m.) -- ELB's Los Altos shopping center (Target/Sears) along the east side of Bellflower Blvd. at Stearns St. and the commercial center along the east side of Bellflower Blvd at Spring St. (Kmart/Lowes/24 Hour Fitness) could have five story buildings. Smaller neighborhood shopping nodes along Los Coyotes Diagonal north of Spring St. ("Pavilions" plaza) and at Wardlow Rd. north and south of Wardlow Rd. could have buildings up to four stories high. So would parts of Pacific Ave. in Wrigley.

And those are just some of newly proposed densities and height increases (details below) that could result if a City Council majority ultimately approves new changes unveiled in a detailed city staff memo unveiled just hours before a June 15 Planning Commission non-voting study session on a city staff proposed re-write of the City's Land Use Element, the foundational document for all land uses citywide. And the items above are just some of the areas proposed for increased density, height increases and mixed commercial and residential uses in varying intensities in various parts of the city.

Some of the changes unveiled by city staff in its June 15 memo make its previously advocated density and height increases and maps shown to the public and to Council -- as recently as a June 13 Council study session -- no longer accurate. It's not immediately clear why city staff didn't present its latest proposed revisions earlier...including in time for the June 13 City Council study session.

[Scroll down for further.]

A detailed city staff memo, from Development Services Director Amy Bodek, Planning Bureau Manager Linda Tatum, and Advance Planning Officer Christopher Koontz, recommends continuing most of staff's previously proposed revisions of the Land Use Element BUT with a number of changes in this June 15 memo.

LBREPORT.com strongly encourages readers to see pp. 12-22 of the memo. If some acronyms and terms seem unclear, they are defined and explained in the full Land Use Element at this link which deserves a full read. If you live in Long Beach, or own land in Long Beach, this affects you, your neighborhood's quality of life and your investments.

The June 15 memo includes some marginal density reductions in part of Wrigley (to four stories, instead of proposed five story buildings along part of Pacific Ave.) and higher building heights than in city staff's previous versions of its Land Use Element revision in several parts of ELB, including:

  • Bellflower Blvd. (east side) at Spring St. (KMart/Lowes center and 24 Hour Fitness area): Five stories. ("Loss of the car dealerships on these parcels would have fiscal implications for the City of Long Beach," says city staff's memo.)

  • Bellflower Blvd. (west side) at Spring St. (USPS office and fast food location): Three stories.

  • Bellflower Blvd. (east side) at Stearns St. (Target/Sears/Los Altos center): Five stories.

  • Bellflower Blvd. (west side) south of Stearns St.:: Four stories.

  • Bellflower Blvd. (west side) north of Stearns St.: Three stories.

  • Bellflower Blvd. (east and west sides) at Atherton (near CSULB): Five stories

  • Bellflower/7th ("Iron Triangle"): Four and three stories immediately but with subsequent revisions if CalTrans allows reconfiguring the intersection.

  • Lakewood Blvd./Willow St.: Four stories.

  • Willow St./Stearns St.: Three stories.

  • Los Coyotes/Clark: Three stories.

  • Los Coyotes (east side) south of Spring St.: Three stories.

  • Los Coyotes (east side) north of Spring St. (Pavilions plaza): Four stories.

  • Los Coyotes, south of Wardlow Rd. (Ralphs center): Four stories.

  • Los Coyotes, north of Wardlow Rd. (BigMistas BBQ): Three stories.

City staff's proposed Land Use Element revision doesn't discuss parking; staff takes the position that parking shouldn't be addressed until subsequent zoning changes after the Council approves Land Use Element changes.

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At the June 15 Planning Commission study session, city staff took a sharply confrontational stance, pushing-back against push-back by residents and effectively going on the offensive. Regarding charges by Wrigley area residents that increased density and higher building heights will harm their already challenged neighborhoods, city staff said the proposed density will improve neighborhoods, not harm them; will bring public safety benefits that will deter crime, not invite it; will benefit traditionally underseved parts of the city, not create environmental justice issues; and will replace crime-attracting current uses with higher and better neighborhood serving uses. Staff said its proposed density increases, particularly in transit-served areas [such as along the Metro Blue Line], reflect good contemporary planning practices, address the city's current housing shortage, invite future jobs and comply with state mandated housing/transit centered policies and greenhouse gas reductions.

Staff said little publicly beyond referencing the proposed ELB changes.

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Public speakers at the June 15 Planning Commission study session reiterated their objections and ramped them up. Some Wrigley residents charged that the proposed land use plan amounted to a new version of developer-serving "crackerbox" density and would harm their neighborhood. Wrigley community advocate Lee Fukui called the land use plan a "payday" for commercial land owners and developers that has deferring improvements of desirable current properties (including some art deco designs) to await Council approval of the density-inviting plan to demolish them.

One Wrigley speaker commended city staff for allocating more density to ELB; another Wrigley resident said city staff hadn't proposed height and density increases in its SE LB SEASP plan that Wrigley faces [prompted response by Ann Cantrell, below.] Another speaker said that the Council's 2012 developer-friendly "Downtown Plan" has already brought "crackerbox" type negative impacts to downtown, including a lack of parking and some wall-to-sidewalk (no setback) developments.

Another downtown adjacent resident urged inclusion in the Land Use Element of a professional parking study to address parking issues created by new density citywide, after her downtown adjacent neighborhood was impacted. [City staff has refused thus far to include parking impacts in its Land Use revisions, saying parking should be address in future zoning changes after the Council approves the land use changes.] Yet another criticized a June 6 media event at which Mayor Robert Garcia portrayed increased development as "Building A Better Long Beach" [an event staged as Garcia seeks re-election.]

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East Long Beach resident Corliss Lee voiced frustration, noting that she's testified in previous venues citing specific reasons not to allow three story buildings at the Plaza quadrants (Palo Verde/Spring St.) only to receive a dismissive response from city staff with no changes. [On April 24, 5th dist. Councilmember Stacy Mungo declined to support Ms. Lee's position at a community meeting [LBREPORT.com coverage here. More recently, Councilwoman Mungo offered what she called a "clear" response that is arguably less than clear on the matter; LBREPORT.com coverage here.]

Ann Cantrell called city staff's online survey "ridiculous" (saying it offered leading questions and tendentious illustrative photos), criticized the Land Use revision's failure to address parking issues. She noted that (contrary to a Wrigley resident's statement) city staff had proposed higher density in SE LB's proposed SEASP rezoning [proposing five story and some seven story buildings along some parts of PCH in and around 2nd St.] and Ms. Cantrell urged the Planning Commission to make changes before sending the plan to the Council.

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Following public testimony, city staff said it plans to schedule its proposed land use revisions for July 21 Planning Commission voted recommendations. That would send the land use plan to the City Council where a Council majority may or may not make changes, amendments or tweaks in eventually approving some Land Use Element revisions. [At a June 13 Council study session, Councilman Roberto Uranga said he believes the Council should hold at least one more study session, if not more, to consider the changes, separated from Council voted action.]

When asked by Planning Commission chair Van Horik if Planning Commissioners could speak individually with city staff, including expressing their views on suggested changes [outside of public view], Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais said that this wouldn't violate the Brown Act as long as the Commissioners' individual actions didn't represent some agreement or consensus between Commission members.

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