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Largest Single Project Ever for Downtown Long Beach, California Gets First Okay

By Harry Saltzgaver, Grunion Gazette, Long Beach, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Mar. 19, 2010--A package of proposals that could result in the largest single project ever built in Long Beach went to the Planning Commission last Thursday night for an Environmental Impact Report approval.

The package sailed through the approval process, thanks in part to a lenghty study session earlier this year. Only two members of the public spoke -- one in favor and the other, a member of Unite Here seeking more information. In fact, a permit for a car wash in north Long Beach took longer to approve than the Golden Shore Master Plan.

The commission was unanimous in its approvals. Principal Architect Daniel Clark made the presentation.

In addition to certification of the EIR, 400 Oceangate Ltd. And Molina Healthcare -- Skip Keesal and Mario Molina -- are seeking a master development plan approval that would allow one of three alternatives to replace the 14-story Union Bank building, the six-story City National Bank building and the Molina Healthcare center on either side of Golden Shore Avenue.

Developer George Medak is representing the partnership. Keesal and 400 Oceangate own the Union Bank and City Bank buildings while Molina owns his corporate building and the adjacent parking structure. The group announced the Golden Shore Master Plan in November 2007 and have spent the last two years preparing the plan and doing the research for the EIR.

As presented to the Planning Commission, the project would have a maximum of 1,379 residential units, 340,000 square feet f office space, a 400-room hotel, 27,000 square feet of conference and banquet space and up to 3,430 parking spaces.

Most of the property, 4.31 acres, is west of Golden Shore -- the City Bank and Molina properties. The Union Bank and adjacent parking is on 1.56 acres east of Golden Shore.

All three of the development options include a 40-story tower, taller than anything currently in Long Beach, and a total of four high-rise buildings. Two of the three options include a 400-room hotel and all include at least some two-story townhomes.

Under the proposed master plan, each building or phase of the project would require separate Planning Commission approval of the site plan and any additional entitlements. The EIR concludes that all impacts can be mitigated to a level below significant impacts with the exception of short-term and cumulative air quality, construction–related noise and project-related traffic impacts.

The Planning Commission is being asked to adopt a statement of overriding considerations and a mitigation monitoring program in addition to certifying the EIR.

When the Union Bank, City Bank and Molina buildings were first developed, it was under guidelines established by a lawsuit settlement between the city's Redevelopment Agency and the state Coastal Commission. Those guidelines detailed development parameters and how the Coastal Act would be applied.

Since those buildings will be demolished, a Local Coastal Program Amendment and an amendment to the Planned Development District will be required. All of those entitlements must be approved by the City Council and/or the Coastal Commission.

In 2007, Medak estimated the total cost of the development at $2 billion to $2.5 billion. Outside investors are expected to be involved, but not until closer to construction.

"Skip (Keesal) and Molina own all the property, which is huge," Medak said. "When we have the entitlements, we will have something to take to investors."

Parking for the new property is planned to be terraced and semi-subterranean, Medak said, with as many as four levels in some places. The buildings will be environmentally friendly, with at least a silver LEED rating, and will meet all seismic standards. The buildings will be based on concrete mats to combat the liquification issues found at waterfront building sites.

The amendment to the Local Coastal Plan will go before the City Council sometime in May, according to senior planner Jeff Winklepleck. Assuming approval there, the plan then would go to the state Coastal Commission.

"After that, the developer would pick one of the alternatives to pursue," Winklepleck said. "We could see something in plan check by mid-2011."

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To see more of the Grunion Gazette or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.gazettes.com/.

Copyright (c) 2010, Grunion Gazette, Long Beach, Calif.

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