LONG BEACH — When Bob and Amy Pace moved into their first home in April, their street was quiet and quaint, a collection of low-slung California bungalows not far from the beach.
The house itself had character, built in 1910 and remodeled. And the neighborhood, just north of 7th Street on Rose Avenue in the old East Side, also seemed destined for better times.
"It seemed like a lot of people were refurbishing their homes," said Bob Pace, 37, a civil engineer. "We thought we could go in there and keep ours up and have a nice little neighborhood. Raise a family. Boy, we just had no idea this would happen."
During the six months since the Paces moved in, seven of 12 bungalows across the street have been replaced by three-story apartment buildings with 57 units.
On the same side, four more bungalows are also expected to be replaced by 36 apartments. And on the Paces' side of Rose, two doors away, another lot is vacant and development is planned.
The Paces knew that their street was zoned for apartments, since two 1960s-vintage two-story complexes were already there. "But these bungalows had been here for 75 years. We thought maybe there would be some development, but not to this extent," said Amy Pace, 26, a fourth-grade teacher.
The Paces have been caught in Long Beach's greatest residential building boom in 30 years.
"This is clearly a record year," said Planning Director Robert Paternoster. "It's happening everywhere (in the region) because of low interest rates, but we seem to be doing particularly well, if that's the word."
400 Applications in a Day
Since January, the city has received applications for about 6,350 new apartments, contrasted with 1,000 for the average year. Four hundred poured in on Monday alone, as the City Council, armed with a Planning Commission recommendation to sharply limit the number of apartments on single and double lots, prepared for a special hearing Tuesday.
The council, after five hours of comment from homeowners concerned about crowding in their neighborhoods and developers worried that their investments could be lost, finally approved a sweeping new series of rules for apartment construction.
It approved regulations that cut in half the number of apartments allowed on single lots and limit the height of apartments, while continuing to allow larger complexes under strict new design guidelines.
The council rejected, however, a Planning Commission recommendation that the new regulations be applied to 189 projects already submitted but without a city building permit. The Planning Commission had recommended such retroactive enforcement because 110 of the 189 pending projects are for single lots.
It was boxlike construction on single lots that prompted the concern of city officials in 1985 and set in motion the studies that led to this week's changes.
The council, concerned with the drop-off in new apartment construction, in 1981 implemented rules that allowed many more apartments on lots zoned for multifamily construction--lots with R-3 and R-4 zoning.
10 Units on a Lot
Ten apartments on one 50-by-150-foot lot are now common, and no one can design an attractive complex on such a small site, Paternoster said.
"Frankly the one thing we did not anticipate was putting eight or 10 units on a single lot," he said. "But now we are getting these ugly apartments that do not fit into the neighborhoods."
In 1982, permits were issued for construction of only 21 apartment buildings with 270 units. Permits were issued for 977 units in 1983; 1,260 in 1984; and 2,205 in 1985.
This year, with construction-loan interest rates dropping and initial City Council discussions about possible building moratoriums, came the avalanche of new applications. Through Tuesday, the city had received applications to build about 535 apartment houses with about 6,350 units. Permits had been issued this year for about 3,900 units.
Most of the new building has occurred south of Pacific Coast Highway and west of Ximeno Avenue, an area that includes the downtown, central city, the old East Side and Belmont Heights. About half of new construction has been in Wallace Edgerton's 2nd Council District, according to Paternoster.
Edgerton, who has assisted several drives by constituents to down-zone neighborhoods, said his greatest challenge as a councilman has been to keep part of his district "from becoming a slum. The developers build these cement boxes, jam people in there and take their money and run."
At Edgerton's request, in an action separate from its citywide rule changes, the council on Tuesday down-zoned an area bounded by 7th Street, Broadway, Redondo and Cherry avenues. The action, which followed several community meetings, severely limits apartment construction by placing affected areas in zones reserved for duplexes and four-unit apartments. In the new zones, building heights are limited to 25 feet. Previous height maximums had been 35 or 55 feet, depending on zones.