|By Ruben Vives, Los Angeles
TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 19, 2011--Next to Alamitos Bay Marina in southeast Long Beach sits the SeaPort Marina Hotel, a collection of pink low-rise strips sprawling across 11 acres of dry grass and concrete.
Built in 1963 for $3 million, the hotel on Pacific Coast Highway and 2nd Street was once a jewel on the water's edge. Then known as the Edgewater Inn, it lured Hollywood celebrities and boasted three restaurants, two cocktail lounges, a yacht catering service and privacy.
Time has not been kind, however.
"It went from four stars to three stars, to 1 1/2 ," owner Raymond Lin said.
It is also at the heart of a bitter four-year stalemate over land use in California's seventh-largest city. The debate comes down to this: Should one of the most valuable coastal parcels in the Southland become a modern oasis of high-end retail and high-rise residential?
On Tuesday, the Long Beach City Council is expected to consider just such a proposal: a $320-million development that includes a 100-room hotel, a science center, a string of elite shops and a 12-story condominium complex.
Standing in the way are three issues some residents say should be reason enough to reject the plan: traffic congestion, potential damage to the Los Cerritos Wetlands across PCH and a long-standing moratorium on buildings higher than three stories.
"This is spot-zoning at its worst," said Elizabeth Lambe, executive director of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust.
But the developers say the Seaside Village, or the Second+PCH project, as it's known, would create hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in annual revenue for the city.
Long Beach's economy already benefits from hundreds of businesses such as Boeing, as well as Long Beach Airport, tourism, a large oil field and the nation's second-busiest port, which produces thousands of jobs and generates $16 billion in annual trade-related wages statewide, according to city officials.
But with an unemployment rate of 12.7% as of last month, compared with the county average of 11.5%, some city officials acknowledge it is hard to say no to the project.
"Certainly there's always a need for jobs, but that's not the only reason to support development," said Councilman Gary DeLong, whose district includes the hotel grounds. "What's there now doesn't provide key amenities, and the community would like to see a better use for that site."
To be sure, the proposed development would reshape the area.
"We view it as a great community gathering place on a pedestrian scale," said David Malmuth, project partner and lead developer whose creations include Paseo Colorado in Pasadena and Hollywood and Highland. "We created a project that allows people to walk and to enjoy views of the water in a social environment.... That kind of experience doesn't exist in that part of town."
There is no question that the development would be big: 20,000 square feet of restaurant space,275 residential units, 155,000 square feet of retail space, 50,000 square feet of hotel space, plus an underground garage for 1,440 cars. The 12-story tower would have 126,000 square feet of condominium space and be topped by a helipad.
The project also would give that part of Long Beach something it has never had: a high-end shopping center.
"This is going to be a beautiful project," real estate broker and resident Steve Bello said. "We have to travel outside of the area to do our shopping. We have to drop our tax dollars in other neighborhoods."
This is the second attempt by Lin and Malmuth to redevelop the site. The first time, their former partner, homebuilding giant Lennar Corp., opted out amid city opposition. That was more than four years ago. Since then, the two men said, they've spent millions trying to bring the new project to reality.
Opponents, though, fear it would only further clog traffic and increase pollution that would harm the wetlands. In fact, the project's environmental impact report outlines the potential negative effect on traffic and air quality.
"Whatever we build here is going to generate additional traffic, but we have to do it responsibly," Malmuth said. "I just ask people to have a sense of proportion. It's not all black and it's not all white."
He said the engineering firm hired to conduct a traffic study for the environmental report found that of the 25 affected intersections, only two would continue to be heavily affected after street improvements -- lane widening, additional right-of-ways and re-striping -- are completed.
To reduce traffic, the development proposal includes shuttle services, including one to the airport for hotel guests, and subsidized bus passes for residents and employees.
Heather Altman, an environmental activist and Long Beach resident, isn't persuaded.
"In spite of the city's street improvements, traffic on 2nd and PCH is going to be bad," she said. "This area is already built out, and there's not much [more] that can be done in terms of road improvements."
Another concern is the push to amend the city's land-use requirements that restrict the height of any new building. Altman and other residents worry that would pave the way for other high-rises.
A city staff report in October supported amending the Local Coastal Program and the Southeast Area Development and Improvement Plan, known as SEADIP, to allow a residential mixed-use development, including the 12-story condominium tower. City officials insist that the changes would apply only to the 2nd and PCH site.
Last month, the Planning Commission unanimously certified the environmental impact report but was divided on the height restriction. The City Council is expected to decide Tuesday whether to recertify the report and approve the amendments. If that happens, the issue then goes before the California Coastal Commission.
"It was difficult for everyone," said Charles Durnin, a city planning commissioner who voted against the amendments. Four members voted in favor. "The people who voted against it felt it would bring too much traffic and it does set a precedent."
Durnin, though, would like the council to uphold the height restriction because people in Long Beach, he said, "don't want something like Marina del Rey."
(c)2011 the Los Angeles Times
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