Long Beach’s Planning Commission will decide next Thursday whether to allow plans and permitting for the Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center to move forward.

The hearing to approve the Environmental Impact Report, as well as the site plan review, conditional use permit, standards variance and local coastal permit, is at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, in council chambers at City Hall. If all the approvals are granted, the $103 million project would move on to the City Council, then the state Coastal Commission.

The center is designed to replace the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool, which was torn down after engineers determined the natatorium was in danger of collapse in the event of an earthquake. The proposed replacement, designed by architect Michael Rotondi, includes two Olympic-sized pools (one inside a structure, the other outside), an indoor diving well, a recreational pool and other amenities.

If approved, a transparent oval would be on the same location as the former building, east of Veterans Memorial Pier and west of the current temporary pool. Instead of running parallel with the beach — which was the orientation of the old indoor pool — these pools would run north and south to increase sightlines and minimize wind impact.

The roof of the new structure would be 78 feet above the sand at its highest point — 19 feet higher than the old building. But because the new building is sloped, it actually blocks less of the ocean view than the old, square building did, according to the EIR.

That height is one of the complaints found in comments about the EIR. Other negative comments contend that alternative sites or construction were not adequately considered and that there isn’t enough protection for area birds. The amount of noise and adequate parking or traffic planning also are inadequately addressed, opponents say.

Belmont Shore resident Melinda Cotton was one of the most vocal opponents in written comments. She said the site should be left a passive park as it is now, with any pool, if built located elsewhere.

The EIR states that there was a ’community’ desire to build the proposed Aquatics center at the same site,” Cotton wrote. “This is not accurate. Other locations were never fully considered or vetted. A ’Stakeholders Committee’ of mainly individuals from the aquatics community focused solely on the former Belmont Pool site, consistently opposing consideration of other sites. While the Aquatics Center is to be paid for with city of Long Beach money (Tidelands Funds and other) there was incredibly limited citywide input, and limited solicitation of input from other than the Third Council District (i.e. southeast Long Beach). It has been pointed out by critics that the proposed Aquatics Center on the sand near the Belmont Pier will again be adjacent to the most wealthy segment of the City of Long Beach.”

There were 61 written comments responded to in the final EIR, as well as transcripts from public hearings before the Marine Advisory Commission, Planning Commission and City Council. Changes were made in response to comments from the state Coastal Commission staff and some editing mistakes, but for the most part, comments were answered by saying the process considered and rejected them.

That was particularly true of alternative locations for the pool. The most popular sites — Harry Bridges Park and the large parking lot east of the Long Beach Arena — both were studied and ruled out on both legal and practical grounds.

The large majority of written comments came from the aquatics community. Most complained that the amount of indoor seating, 1,250 seats, wasn’t adequate for national or international meets, or voiced concern that planners might choose an alternative that would put the diving well outside instead of inside the building.

The consultant response to seating concerns said that was the maximum that could be accommodated without significantly increasing the size of the building, and noting that up to 3,000 people could be seated on portable stands at the outdoor pool for major meets. The outside diving well had been considered to lower the height of the roof, consultants said, but had been rejected.

“The pool EIR process has been a very inclusive and transparent one,” Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price said. “I look forward to hearing the Planning Commissioners’ comments and recommendation in regards to the Belmont Plaza pool and aquatics center project. Thus far, the process has allowed for the inclusion of many reasonable suggestions and ideas. I plan to continue to consider and possibly include such recommendations once the project returns to council for final approval.”

The Planning Commission meeting starts at 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, in council chambers at City Hall. Public comment will be accepted before the commission acts.

Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at hsalt@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

Load comments