In a marathon meeting that lasted into the early morning, the Seal Beach Planning Commission paved the way for a controversial housing development on the former DWP property, the last remaining coastal open space in the city.
The Commission voted unanimously to change of the 10.7–acre property’s zoning from land-use designated for a hotel to residential and voted 3-2 for an amendment that allows 4.5 acres of the property to be developed as residential housing, leaving the remaining 6.4 acres for open space. Developer Bay City Partners’ plans to build 48 homes on the land.
Now that the Planning Commission has approved these changes and the Environmental Impact Report, the DWP Project plans go to the City Council and eventually the California Coastal Commission for final approval.
“It’s a give and take, and we all need to give a little to get a little,” said Planning Commission Chair Sandra Massa-Lavitt. “The amendment is appropriate.”
Supporters of the housing development called the vacant land an eyesore and said they were frustrated with decades of inaction surrounding the land.
“I don’t want to see a fence for another 30 years,” said Planning Commissioner Esther Cummings. “We need to move on and work with the developer to make the best project possible.”
“This property will never be a hotel, it’s a dream,” said Brian Kyle, a co-owner of the property and a lifetime Seal Beach resident. “Here in 2012 we have a good project that’s good for Seal Beach, and it’s the first time in 52 years we’ve gotten this far in the process.”
There were, however, plenty of people opposed to giving up open space based on the belief that a hotel would be better for the community.
“There is a moral hazard here,” said Planning Commissioner Robert Goldberg before he voted against the zoning change. “They purchased to build a hotel and sat for 10 years. I’ll go to 68/32, but simply rewarding someone for having an eyesore for 10 years is a moral hazard.”
“It really insults me,” said resident Jim Caviola. “Sitting here and letting them have 4.5 acres and turning that into 48 homes. Let’s talk about the top 1% and everything else that has gone wrong. We want a nice hotel.”
For years, the project has sharply divided the community and embroiled the city and property owners in dueling lawsuits.
The project has a long and complicated history. Formerly owned by the Department of Water and Power, the city has spent decades planning for its use and hundreds of residents offered community input. Ultimately, the property was zoned for open space and visitor uses such as restaurants, shops or a hotel. The city had several opportunities to buy the land and preserve it as open space but never did for lack of money. Bay City Partners bought the property but quickly decided that a hotel on the property would not be economically feasible.
They came up with plans for high density housing and quickly ended up in dueling lawsuits with the city that cost upwards of $1 million dollars and ended last year with a settlement agreement in which the developers would give the city 6.5-acres for open space and access to a bike trail and the First Street parking lot if the project is approved. In exchange for the open space, access and a sewer easement, the city will pay Bay City Partners nearly $2 million and give the developers about 7,000 square feet of roadway along First Street.
On Tuesday, the Press-Telegram reported that the California State Lands Commission had sent a letter to the city “advising that part of the DWP site is under public trust,” which could complicate efforts to develop public trust property reserved for open space, habitat protection and water-related recreation and commerce.
While it remains to be seen if the City Council and California Coastal Commission will green-light the project, the Planning Commission’s decision left the project’s opponents feeling let down.
“Obviously I’m disappointed with the ruling,” said longtime resident Carla Watson. “They’ve rewarded the developer with a zone change instead of sticking to the original 70/30 split with a hotel.”