Affordable condo project gains early approval amid protests over parking impacts

The Long Beach Planning Commission approved the consolidation of four empty lots in the Washington Neighborhood Thursday night in a vote that could pave the way for a new affordable condo development.

Habitat for Humanity presented its plans to build a four-building complex comprised of two and three-bedroom condos at the southeast corner of the intersection of Locust Avenue and 14th Street. Just 14 of the 36 units would be market rate, with the others being set aside or low-income (20) and very-low-income earners (2).

While the project could provide critically needed affordable units in the city’s Washington Neighborhood, a common obstacle for new projects in the city reared its head: lack of parking.

Surrounding business owners called into the meeting to oppose the plan as presented, saying it could negatively impact their businesses that were already dealt a number of blows by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Approving the plan as presented could not only take away scarce parking spaces for customers but also diminish the ability to use the alleyway that separates the project from the storefronts to the south, they said.

Sterling Steffan, a co-founder and owner of Trademark Brewing that sits to the south of the proposed condo complex, said that Habitat for Humanity did not reach out to businesses to discuss how adding 36 residential units might impact parking.

“It looks like something that would be plopped into a suburban community, maybe out in Ventura County, but not something that will be abutting an alley with light-industrial and retail use in a Midtown Plan,” Steffan said.

He said he supports home development, but said that existing operators were not included in discussions was “ludicrous and offensive” to the business community.

Grayston Leonard, who owns the Long Beach Rising indoor rock climbing next to Trademark, agreed that the project has the potential to make an already bad parking problem worse in the area.

“We’re all in favor of affordable housing and improvements in this neighborhood, we just wish that they would strongly consider the needs of the businesses that have previously invested in improving this area,” Leonard said.

The project’s 36 units are expected to include 68 parking spaces, but those spaces will be in the form of garages.

The project does not include any guest parking but because of local and state zoning rules, and the city’s proximity to transit options, the project actually qualifies to provide less parking than Habitat for Humanity has proposed.

Chris Koontz, deputy director for development services, said that the developers could have actually proposed one-half of one parking space per unit, or about 18 total spaces.

“The project is actually significantly over-parked,” Koontz said.

Despite the planning commission’s vote Thursday, Koontz said it could be some time before any kind of groundbreaking occurs.

In an email Thursday, Koontz said Habitat for Humanity still needs to prepare final building plans, secure funding and match with the future homeowners, a process that could take about year, Koontz said.

If the project is approved and built it would add needed affordable housing in an underserved neighborhood. That is precisely whey Habitat for Humanity chose the location, said Erin Rank, the group’s president and CEO for greater Los Angeles.

“As housing prices continue to rise in Long Beach, we feel that this will be a nice compliment to the Washington Neighborhood and a necessary service for Long Beach,” Rank said.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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