LONG BEACH — With one hurdle cleared, backers of a $50-million hotel project that includes partial restoration of the historic Pacific Coast Club this week intensified their lobbying of the City Council.
"We will attempt to talk with all the City Council people individually to explain the project," said developer Robert R. Bellevue of Burlingame, owner of the Ocean Boulevard site on which the 16-story hotel would be built.
In fact, after meeting with Councilman Ray Grabinski on Monday, the Bellevue team had made its presentation to six of nine council members during the last two weeks, said the developer's lawyer, Charles Greenberg.
Project opponents say they are already assuming City Council concurrence with last Friday's unanimous Planning Commission approval and are preparing appeals to state agencies entrusted with preserving beach lands for public use.
Opponents say the 400,000-square-foot project is far too large for the 1.55-acre bluff-and-beach site and would infringe on the public beach, blocking shoreline views for miles. They are hoping the council will force some concessions when it considers the project next month after the Planning Commission formally signs off on it April 23.
"I would hope that before this gets to the Coastal Commission we'll have a design that's good for the community and not just the developer," said Joy Melton, a resident of the adjacent Villa Riviera and a leader of a group that claims 1,000 signatures on an anti-project petition.
At last week's five-hour hearing, Planning Commission members grasped what they said might be their last chance to save the main rooms of the 61-year-old club, once the elegant gathering place of this city's elite, but vacant since 1970.
In approving the project, the Planning Commission defied its own staff and state Coastal Act prohibitions on beach construction.
The planning staff had said that the project's 91-foot extension beyond the existing club onto the beach would create an "irreversible adverse impact on the Long Beach coastal zone and will detract from the development value and potential . . . throughout the downtown shoreline."
Planning Director Robert Paternoster told the commission that the project--200 hotel suites and 100 condominiums in addition to 75,000 square feet of the original castle-like club--would set a "terrible precedent" by allowing private construction on the beach.
Although 95% of the city's beach is now owned by government, several "sand lots" are still privately held and the city could expect development proposals for them if the Bellevue proposal is approved, he said.
Paternoster suggested a scaled-down hotel-and-condo development that would save much of the old club while extending development no farther onto the beach. "They are trying to cram too much onto this very precious site," he said.
Not Economically Feasible
But after Bellevue insisted that the planning staff's alternative would not work economically, planning commissioners said they did not want to gamble on losing the club to demolition.
Commissioner Patricia Schauer said the hearing was analogous to a poker game. Bellevue had submitted an alternate proposal that called for replacing the deteriorated club with a 16-story, bluff-top condominium tower that would require no special city or state approval.
In recommending denial, the planning staff was betting that Bellevue would come back with a scaled-down restoration plan rather than building the condo tower, Schauer said.
But Commissioner Manny Perez, an architect who has designed oceanfront developments, said he did not like that "roll of the dice."
The city says it wants to save historic buildings, but landmark structures are being torn down, Perez said. Within the last 18 months, both the Landmark Building and the Fox West Coast Theater have fallen to a wrecker's ball and the Jergins Trust Building is set for demolition, he said.
"City policies pay good lip service to preservation of historic buildings, but being able to achieve that with city zoning and planning regulations is extremely difficult," Perez said in an interview.
Chairman Changes Opinion
In the end, Commission Chairman Richard Gaylord, who said he had come into the meeting opposed to the project because of its size, also voted for it.
"I didn't want to risk losing this building," said Gaylord, a real estate broker who had tried to sell the Coast Club for a previous owner. "To make sense economically they really needed to go out on the sand. By saving the front portion of the club, they didn't have much room left on the lot."
During its presentation, Bellevue's team of consultants, architects and lawyers repeatedly compared the restoration project to the more block-like, glass-and-concrete alternative. Computer models showed how each would look from Ocean Boulevard and Shoreline Drive.