A revised version of the Belmont Pool project is set for another round of review after appeals and legal challenges have significantly altered both the design and completion date of the project that was initially rolled out in 2016.
The project has been tied up in legal challenges and appeals by residents who claimed the design violated California’s environmental rules and was too expensive for a project that did not benefit the entire city. After months of revisions—including the loss of the translucent dome that dominated early renderings of the project—the project must now run the gauntlet of local and state agency approvals.
Those approvals would come from the city’s Planning Commission, City Council and the California Coastal Commission, which holds jurisdiction over projects in the coastal zone. For Long Beach, that has generally meant most projects south of Broadway.
A previous review by the California Coastal Commission revealed a number of concerns about the project, including lack of access for all members of the community, the threat of sea level rise and the height of the project.
The new design now includes a vortex pool that shifts water, a zip-line, waterfalls and splash pads for family recreation. The footprint of the project has been reduced to fall in line with projected sea-level rise scenarios and the height has been significantly reduced with the loss of the dome.
Elimination of the dome means that all of the facility’s pools will now be outdoor, but the revised project has also proposed a glass wall along the perimeter of the pools to protect them from the wind while also maintaining views of the waterfront.
The new height of the complex will vary because of support beams that would hold up shade structures, but the tallest building would be about 30 feet or about half the height of the original structure.
The city believes that the issue of parking has been resolved by both the size reduction of the project and other street and parking lot improvements adjacent to the complex. A city memo released this week states that when accounting for those factors, the revised project results in a net gain of 36 parking spaces; the project was previously 220 spaces short of what was required under city zoning requirements.
Changes to the project have also resulted in nearly doubling the amount of open green space included in the plans. The previous design included 47,000-square-feet of green space while the most recent plan provides for 92,000-square-feet. The seating inside the complex has also been increased to more than 1,500, something city officials said was a win for the city’s sizable swimming community.
Despite the revisions made to the original plans, the pool project is likely to face more legal challenges. Gordana Kajer, a Belmont Heights resident who was an appellant in a challenge against the original project, said she is likely to challenge this one as well.
Kajer said that in addition to the city’s submission to the Coastal Commission early last month not including traffic impact studies, it also does not account for visual impacts in the new project. She said the project is moving too fast for such a consequential decision to be made and that residents have been left in the dark through a lot of it.
“There is supposed to be a process where the public is entitled to participate in it and that has not happened,” Kajer said. “When there is no process the project is flawed from the start and the city has a history of these kinds of projects ending poorly for Long Beach.”
A city memo released this week stated that if all goes well in the approval and bidding process, the project could break ground as soon as the summer of 2021 and potentially be completed and open to the public in 2023.
That is, if the legal challenges are resolved and the city can bridge the gap in funding that has also played a roll in preventing the project from moving forward.
The originally proposed pool project was slated to cost $103 million, but delays in getting the project started shot the price tag up to about $145 million. Revisions made to the project since then have shrunk the projected cost to about $85 million, according to the memo, but the city still has only about $61 million allocated for the pool project, with much of that coming from the city’s Tidelands fund.
The city has held out hope that the funding gap could be filled through fundraising, grants or even tapping the Olympic organizing committee. While no Olympic events have been scheduled for the Belmont Pool, the city memo noted that interest has been expressed in the facility if it were completed in time.
Acting City Manager Tom Modica said that the city is still pursuing those options as well as possible sponsorship of the pool once it’s completed. He said the Los Angeles Olympic organizing committee has expressed interest in the location due to its shoreline views that would play well on television and its outdoor element that could accommodate up to 10,000 people should an event be held in Long Beach. Modica said the roughly $25 million gap is much more manageable now than the previous gap that was closer to $80 million.
If the project doesn’t make it before the commission in February, it’s unclear how it could impact the prospect of the site hosting an Olympic event(s). Modica didn’t provide a clear answer on how it could impact the completion date, but said that anytime you push a project back “it impacts the timeline for when it will be completed.”
“The reason we’re shooting for a February hearing at the Coastal Commission is because that meeting is going to be in Long Beach, and that’s something that we and the commission prefer with such a big decision before it,” Modica said.
Councilwoman Suzie Price, who represents Belmont Shore, where the pool will be located, said that she was pleased with the revisions made to the project, especially the additional green space. She said that the changes made to enhance recreational opportunities serve as an opportunity to turn the pool into an asset for people all around the city.
Price noted that the loss of the dome might rankle the swimming community, one of the loudest voices in pushing through the rebuild of the pool, but leaving it open could draw interest to host an Olympic diving event in Long Beach if the pool is completed before the 2028 games. She’s confident that the new project will satisfy the changes sought by the Coastal Commission and chalked the legal challenges up to a small group of residents who often challenge projects in the city.
“I think it’s better to have an amazing project that can pass Coastal Commission standards and is affordable versus a perfect project that sits on a shelf somewhere as plans because it was too expensive or couldn’t gain approval,” Price said.
The Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool closed in 2013 because of what the city said were structural deficiencies that made the pool unsafe. It was later torn down in December 2014 and new plans to replace it were revealed to the public in April 2016.
The originally proposed pool not only included the dome that enclosed competition-level pools and diving areas, but a main pool with a moveable floor that could be raised and lowered to match the type of competition being held.
A potential vote by the city’s Planning Commission could come as early as Dec. 19, with a vote by the City Council following in January. If both bodies move the project forward it could be before the Coastal Commission by February, when the commission’s rotating meeting location calendar would bring it to Long Beach.
Councilman Roberto Uranga, who also serves on the Coastal Commission, said that he couldn’t speculate on the project in his capacity as a commissioner due to the possible upcoming vote, but said he was looking forward to having it come before the City Council.
“I can say, however, that both Commission staff and [City of Long Beach] staff have been working diligently to present a project that is ready for Commission review,” Uranga said a text Thursday. “I am looking forward to the presentation and to what I know will be a robust discussion on the pool.”