Belmont pool from bike path

This rendering shows the view of the Belmont Aquatic Center from the beach bike path.

Certification of an Environmental Impact Report, site plan, conditional use permits and more for the Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center — all wrapped up in an appeal hearing — will be taken up Tuesday by the City Council.

Staff's recommendation to the council is to reject the appeals and approve all of the recommendations from the city's Planning Commission. This hearing talks about permits, and will not address where or how the city will come up with the estimated $103 million construction cost.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of all the permits and certification of the EIR at a March 2 hearing. That decision prompted four appeals — one from Jeff Miller and Melinda Cotton, another from Joe Weinstein and Ann Cantrell representing Citizens Advocating for Responsible Planning (CARP), a third from Gordana Kajer and the fourth from Anna Christensen representing the Long Beach Area Peace Network.

Those appellants have opposed the pool project from the beginning, on grounds ranging from location and cost to social equity. The appeals specifically talk about improper public noticing, inconsistency with the Local Coastal program, changes in traffic patterns that should require more study and inadequate analysis in the EIR.

The center has been in the works for more than four years — since the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool closed in January 2013 after being deemed a hazard in the case of an earthquake. It includes a semi-transparent oval covering an inside competitive pool, dive pool and therapy pools, along with other amenities. Another competitive-level pool and a recreational pool will be outside to the east of the building.

A temporary above-ground pool was installed in the parking lot next to the pool site in December 2013, and has been operating at or near capacity since, officials said.

The proposed new complex would include a semi-transparent half-dome covering the indoor components. It would peak at 71 feet above a 7-foot plinth or base required to prepare for sea level rise. That is significantly higher than the 25- and 30-foot height restrictions in the area. However, it is only slightly higher than the former Belmont Olympic Pool natatorium, and actually provides more view space because of the square structure of the old pool complex.

Opponents argued that the replacement pool should be built elsewhere to allow more access by the rest of the city. However, the money currently being used to finance the new pool and the goal of replacing the iconic Belmont Plaza Pool requires it to be at the original site, officials said. Alternative sites within the tidelands, specifically the parking lot next to the Long Beach Arena and the land next to the Queen Mary, were rejected primarily because those sites are committed to other uses.

The staff report also argues that plans are being developed to expand public transportation to the Belmont pool site.

Since the EIR was completed, the city has reduced traffic lanes on the nearby Ocean Boulevard from two each direction to one each direction. That prompted complaints from Cantrell and others that a new traffic study needed to be done. Staff members countered that the change actually creates more parking, and that a traffic plan would be required for any major event at the pool complex.

If the council denies the appeals and approves the permits, the project still must receive approval by the state Coastal Commission.

If previous hearings about the pool complex are any indication, Tuesday likely will last more than an hour. The appellants all get time to present their case, and public comment is expected. The hearing is listed at the front of the council agenda, with the meeting beginning at 5 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 333 E. Ocean Blvd.

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.

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