LONG BEACH — Resisting the argument that it had to choose between restoration or demolition, the City Council on Wednesday rejected a $50-million hotel project that would have partially restored the historic Pacific Coast Club.
"You're forcing me to be the executioner of the Pacific Coast Club, and it is something I do not want to be," said Robert R. Bellevue of Burlingame, Calif., owner of the Ocean Boulevard site on which the 16-story hotel would have been built.
After a long Tuesday evening of testimony and debate that ended past midnight, and confronted by strong community opposition, the council voted 5 to 3 to deny the project. It reversed Planning Commission approval last month but upheld the recommendation of the city planning staff.
The council concluded that the 405,000-square-foot project was far too large for the 1.55-acre, bluff-and-beach site and would infringe on the public beach, blocking shoreline views for miles and setting a political precedent that could lead to other beach development.
But the council also directed the city manager to work with Bellevue to scale down the proposal in a final effort to keep at least part of the 61-year-old, castle-like club intact.
The club, which has about 144,000 square feet, is one of only three Long Beach structures on the U. S. Department of the Interior's National Registry of Historic Places. Once the gathering place of this city's elite, it has been vacant since 1970 and was condemned as a public nuisance by the city in 1984.
After the meeting, Bellevue said he would try to work with the city. But he said he was not sure his financing would hold up on a smaller project.
And the developer said he was almost certain that no project that includes restoration costs he estimated at $8 million is feasible unless hotel parking is allowed on an adjacent city-owned lot--a provision the council specifically rejected.
"We'll take a look . . . . But if we can't use the city lot, there is no way in the world we're going to fit," Bellevue said.
After a few hours' sleep and reflection, he said later Wednesday morning that any form of restoration project "is at very best a long shot" unless the city agrees to assist in its financing.
When proposing the hotel and partial restoration last September, Bellevue submitted an alternate plan that called for demolishing the club and replacing it with a 16-story condominium project, also of about 400,000 square feet.
Unlike the hotel proposal, the condo project would require no change in local or state coastal plans because it would not protrude farther than the existing club onto the sandy beach area.
Condo Plans to Advance
The developer said Wednesday that he will move forward with the condo plan if discussions with the city are fruitless.
"I have repeatedly been told (by the city) that the only thing stopping the Pacific Coast Club from being demolished is that I have been unwilling to (get) the demolition permit," Bellevue said.
Searching for ways to forestall demolition, some council members asked City Manager James Hankla to look at setting up a tiny redevelopment zone to help acquire an adjoining lot and possibly to reduce some of Bellevue's costs. But Mayor Ernie Kell said he opposed that option.
Though the council's vote was 5 to 3, its members seemed to reject the hotel project as proposed except for Evan Anderson Braude in whose 1st District it would be located. The split was mostly over whether to deny the project at this week's hearing or delay a final vote for 30 days so the city staff could meet with Bellevue.
Kell and Councilmen Warren Harwood, Ray Grabinski, Clarence Smith and Thomas Clark voted for immediate denial. Braude, Jan Hall and Wallace Edgerton voted for the delay.
The emotional hearing ended six weeks of intense lobbying by both Bellevue and opponents of his project.
While Bellevue's team of consultants, architects and lawyers gave most council members preview screenings of the proposal, residents of the neighboring Villa Riviera condominiums organized a campaign to block it.
By late Tuesday, petitions of opposition with nearly 2,300 signatures had been submitted to the city. In addition, 148 letters opposing the project, contrasted with three favoring it, had been received, said the city clerk.
Opponents had also enlisted the support of some of the state's leading historical preservationists.
The Bellevue hotel proposal, which would restore several of the cavernous main rooms of the club but tear down its turreted six-story tower, "makes a travesty of the idea of restoration . . . (and) makes a mockery of preserving our heritage," John Merritt, president of the California Preservation Foundation, wrote in a letter to the council.
Architect Bruce D. Judd, a member of the board of advisers to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, testified that the partial restoration would "drastically alter the existing character of the building" and would probably destroy it as a historical resource.