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Long Beach condo plan touches a nerve

A plan to replace a marina-area hotel with residential towers stirs fears of congestion.

July 10, 2007|Sharon Bernstein and Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writers

The SeaPort Marina Hotel sits at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and 2nd Street in Long Beach, looking like a worn postcard from the 1950s -- a sprawling low-rise complex of pink buildings above the marina that has clearly seen better days.

Neighbors say the place is an eyesore -- and some hotel guests have complained in Internet chat rooms that the accommodations are dirty and smelly.

But a plan to tear down the landmark building and erect 170,000 square feet of shops and 425 luxury condos has met with stiff opposition from many Long Beach residents, who see it as an unwanted part of the booming port city's march toward high-density urbanism.

New development has been sweeping the coast of Long Beach, with several new high-rise condos going up in the downtown area in the last two years. Several new developments are also in the works on the eastern shore, around the hotel.

The Seaport Marina project would be the biggest in decades along Alamitos Bay and has become a symbol for what some consider overdevelopment.

It would rise next to a popular boat marina and across the street from a neglected expanse of mud, cattails, saltwater pools and oil pumps that form the Los Cerritos Wetlands.

Brown pelicans sit atop the lampposts and great blue herons perch on palm trees. Cyclists speed by on land, and sailors and kayakers cruise under the adjacent 2nd Street bridge.

The California Coastal Commission staff has already expressed concern about the loss of the SeaPort hotel, saying it would prefer overnight lodgings that many can afford instead of high-rise condos for the relatively few.

Proposed by the California division of Florida-based Lennar Homes, the Seaport Marina project is one of several in the works in parts of Long Beach and north Orange County.

It has won kudos from those who say that the city needs more housing but concern among longtime residents who worry that Long Beach is becoming too dense.

"There's too much development around here," said Ossie Saguil, 48, a physician who lives in a condominium nearby.

"The traffic patterns are bad already," Saguil said. "And now this plan is also bad for the environment. It will lead to congestion, which will also lead to pollution."

Brandon Kline, vice president for public policy for the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, said the project would benefit the city, bringing businesses, sales tax revenue and moderately priced housing to an area that desperately needs it.

But he said the developer should work with residents to retool the project so that nearby homeowners are more comfortable with it.

"We're definitely supportive of it, but we want to make sure we are able to balance the development with what the residents want," Kline said.

The project won support of the Long Beach Planning Commission last spring, but was appealed to the City Council. Under pressure from homeowners and other opponents, the council is expected to postpone until November a hearing on the project that had been scheduled for tonight. The council is still expected to hold a special wetlands study session at 2:30 p.m. today.

Long Beach City Councilman Gary DeLong, whose district includes the SeaPort hotel, said he would ask for the continuance because Lennar has not yet developed a satisfactory plan for reducing the traffic consequences of the huge project.

Close to the junction of the 405 and 605 freeways, the area is already congested, according to DeLong and others, and residents say that traffic is already severe, especially with beachgoers in warmer months.

If the company cannot find a way of reducing the traffic, he said, it should scale down the project significantly.

"I do believe that some time over the next couple of months they will see that reduced density must be part of the solution," DeLong said.

Phone calls placed to Lennar's corporate headquarters were not returned Monday, and calls to its Aliso Viejo office were not answered.

Charles Posner, a planner with the Coastal Commission's Long Beach office, said the agency was concerned about several aspects of the plan, including traffic and the possibility that a road might be built through the wetlands, one of Southern California's last remaining unrestored salt marsh areas.

The commission is also concerned that Lennar would build condominiums because the state prefers that scarce land at the shore be used for purposes other than residential.

The commission expects to review the project if it is approved by the City Council, Posner said.

The nearby wetland is a key issue for many residents.

Mary Parsell, president of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, which appealed the Planning Commission's approval of the project, said the buildings would be taller than the stores and other structures flanking the wetland.

"That would change the whole character of the area," Parsell said. "What do you want next to the wetlands and our beautiful beach areas?"

Long Beach attorney Melvin L. Nutter, a former state Coastal Commission chairman, said Monday that he hoped the council's decision to delay its hearing would allow the city to step back and design a plan for the entire wetlands area that takes traffic and marsh preservation into account.

Nutter represents opponents of a proposed Home Depot nearby as well as a proposed road extension that is part of the Lennar project.

Both the Home Depot and the road extension are to be reviewed by the Coastal Commission later this year.

State officials have "concluded that the Los Cerritos Wetlands is an area that justifies major restoration activity and money developed to it," Nutter said. "So we ought not be compromising its viability."

sharon.bernstein@latimes.com

deborah.schoch@latimes.com

Times staff writer Tiffany Hsu contributed to this report.

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