After a five-hour hearing Wednesday night, a divided Long Beach Planning Commission approved a slightly downsized Second+PCH project that includes a 12-story building that could be used for condominiums.
The commission also unanimously certified the Environmental Impact Report for the project - a move opponents said virtually guaranteed a legal challenge.
A substitute motion to eliminate the 12-story building, as well as a staff recommendation to allow a building that tall only if it was used as a hotel, failed before the vote on an alternative offered in the Environmental Impact Report done for the project. The alternative was less than what developer David Malmuth sought, but was the smallest alternative he said was economically feasible.
Planning Commissioners sat and listened to more than two and a half hours of comments - 62 people - before discussing the proposal. More speakers were opposed to the project than were in favor (36-26), but it appeared that supporters outnumbered opponents in the audience.
At issue is the redevelopment of the SeaPort Marina Hotel property on the southeast corner of the Second Street and Pacific Coast Highway intersection. Owners Ray and Amy Lin have tried for eight years, the last four with Malmuth Development, to get approval for a mixed-use project to replace the aging hotel.
Opponents, including the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, the University Park Estates neighborhood association and other residents, argued that the planned proposal was too tall, too high density and would create too much traffic. Speakers Wednesday repeatedly said that the project was contrary to the SEADIP (Southeast Area Development and Improvement Plan) master zoning plan, and that SEADIP should be maintained.
Supporters argued that it was time to do something on the property, and that an amendment to SEADIP made sense. Malmuth argued that both the 12-story tower and a residential density of at least 275 units (alternative three's reduction from the proposed 325 unites) were necessary to make the development economically feasible.
"It seems that so far all we've done is to bend over backwards to accommodate the applicant," said Commissioner Alan Fox, who voted against the amendment to SEADIP allowing the project. "I give credit to Mr. Malmuth as a negotiator. The applicant has been virtually inflexible, based on the economic viability of the project... It's our job to speak for the people, not the applicant."
Fox tried to get approval for a staff recommendation minus the 12-story building, but could only get one other vote - Commissioner Phil Saumur. Commissioner Becky Blair said the commission wasn't accommodating the developer, but dealing with the reality of trying to get a project done to improve the community.
Blair seconded the motion made by Commissioner Leslie Gentile to prepare amendments to SEADIP Area 17, the parcel with SeaPort Marina, to allow development up to the limits allowed in Option 3 of the EIR. Those limits are 275 residential units, one building up to 150 feet (12 stories) tall with other stories up to 75 feet, but with an average height of no more than 55 feet. It also allows up to 155,000 square feet of retail space, a 100-room hotel with restaurants and meeting rooms, another 20,000 square feet of restaurant space and at least 30% of open space.
Fox, Saumur and Commission Chair Charles Durnin voted against the motion. Gentile, Blair, Melani Smith and Vice Chair Donita Van Horik voted in favor.
Opponents including Elizabeth Lambe, executive director of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, and that group's attorney, Douglas Carstens, warned that they will continue to fight the project at the City Council and state Coastal Commission levels, with potential court action as well
"If you approve this here, it is no doubt dead on arrival," said Heather Altman, an environmental activist who has opposed the project from the beginning. "What's the point of that?"
The Planning Commission is not done with the project - it will conduct another hearing on Nov. 17 to review a site plan and other development details before sending all of its recommendations on to the City Council. The council must rule on the proposed zoning changes and variances, and also would have to rule on an appeal of the EIR certification, which is expected.