Residents Raise Concerns Over Wetlands Pla

Sean Belk

Nearly every person who spoke at a Long Beach Planning Commission meeting last month expressed concerns over newly revised zoning guidelines proposed for commercial and residential development in the southeast area of the city adjacent to the Los Cerritos Wetlands.

During a study session on Aug. 18, the main concern raised by residents was how potential mixed-use development allowed under the new zoning called the Southeast Area Specific Plan (SEASP) would impact traffic at an already heavily congested area.

Other topics of contention included potential impacts to the nearby wetlands and obstruction of views given the allowable building heights and density under the new plan, among other concerns.

The new specific plan would allow for a net increase of more than 5,000 new residential units, up to 425 hotel rooms and an additional 573,567 square feet of commercial space. The additional dwelling units would increase the area’s population by up to 6,391 more people while the additional commercial uses would create more than 4,000 new employees, according to consultants.

The new specific plan aims to revise zoning established in 1977 called the Southeast Area Development Improvement Plan (SEADIP) and would allow for development of seven-story buildings in some areas while the existing plan caps building heights at 35 feet and prohibits residential use in most areas.

Some residents questioned the accuracy of the consultant that helped the city conduct public outreach over the past few years to develop the draft specific plan, which was released in March, and a draft environmental impact report (EIR), which was released in July. The deadline to submit public comments on the SEASP draft EIR is Sept. 19.

“Obviously there’s a disconnect with what [the consultant is] proposing and telling you and what you’re hearing from the residents of the community,” said resident Jeff Miller, who noted that all residents who spoke expressed concerns with the new specific plan. “We aren’t going to get around better if it’s made worse. This really doesn’t make sense.”

The new specific plan comes after numerous attempts to redevelop the aging SeaPort Marina Hotel site at the corner of 2nd Street and Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) have failed to move forward because of similar concerns brought forward about traffic, building heights and potential impacts to the nearby wetlands.

The newly revised specific plan is an attempt by the city to update zoning to reflect current market conditions while balancing economic requirements for development and needs of the community and the environment. Over the past two years, the city conducted community meetings and established a 22-member citizens advisory committee to oversee the formation of the new specific plan.

Wendy Nowak, associate principal for Santa Ana-based consulting firm PlaceWorks, Inc., gave a presentation on the specific plan, which she noted encompasses a 1,500-acre area stretching from the Orange County border near the Market Place shopping center to the Golden Sails Hotel.

One of the main changes, she said, is that the new plan would allow for mixed-use commercial, residential and hotel developments that would create “public gathering places” and attract developers to invest in the area.

The new specific plan also establishes a new land use category known as “coastal habitat wetlands and recreation,” which would allow for wetlands restoration efforts, interpretive centers and visitor-serving coastal related uses.

In addition, the new plan would increase mobility in the area with protected bike lanes and encourage the utilization of the promenade waterway in the Marina Pacifica shopping center to be opened up as a public amenity, she said.

“What this does is it gives a new comprehensive approach for land uses, for circulation and for preserving natural resources,” Nowak said. “It works as a comprehensive whole.”

The EIR, meanwhile, provides four alternatives to the proposed SEASP, including: keeping the existing zoning as-is; allowing no projects or development; reducing intensity of development or reducing building heights.

The consultant notes, however, that the city council will still be required to approve a statement of “overriding consideration” that would be required to be approved by the California Coastal Commission since there are unmitigated environmental impacts.

Still, several residents in addition to Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust have expressed concerns with the specific plan and EIR, have questioned the accuracy and have requested that both documents be revised before being forwarded to the city council.

The planning commission is scheduled to consider the SEASP final EIR with responses to public comments at its meeting on Nov. 3. If approved, the city council will conduct a public hearing for approval on Dec. 6.

Emails seeking comment from the land trust were not returned.



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