A proposed six-story, 281-unit housing development near the 2ND & PCH shopping center can move forward after the Long Beach City Council denied an appeal filed by multiple groups who said the project would create traffic issues and was not compliant with zoning laws.

The city’s Planning Commission approved the project in April, which would demolish the Congressional Place office building at 6700 Pacific Coast Highway at Studebaker Road.

On Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to deny the appeals while attaching some conditions about residents and construction crews not using the neighboring marina parking spaces, requiring parking decals be distributed to residents and the creation of a loading zone that won’t impede traffic.

Because the project is in a zone that is not appealable to the California Coastal Commission, the council is the final decision-maker.

The 281-unit project is slated to include 13 units for low-income households, something that the city says qualifies it for the state’s density bonus and allows it to exceed the five-story height limit in the area. The developer, Holland Partner Group, is building a separate 271-unit project Downtown and Volta on Pine, also with 271 units.

However, it was challenged by three groups who alleged that the project needed a full environmental review to assess its effects on traffic and greenhouse gas emissions while adding that it ran contrary to the city’s design rules for the area.

Michelle Black, an attorney representing the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, one of the appellants,  said in a letter to the council that the project needed to be revised to comply with not only the city’s zoning but also California Coastal Zone law.

Black said the project does not conform with the city’s Southeast Area Specific Plan (SEASP), which was adopted by the council in 2017 and established a three-story height limit at the intersection of Studebaker and PCH, which was given a lower allowable height to provide a gradual increase at the gateway into the city.

City planners said Tuesday that the city has no control over awarding exemptions or density bonuses, and the city’s analysis said the project qualified for a waiver on its height because it included affordable units, is installing solar-powered facilities in the project and public art will be installed on the eastern side of the building facing PCH.

The letter also called attention to the number of affordable units (13) because state law requires at least 5% of the project to be affordable to qualify for the bonus. The 13 units are just 4.6% of the total project, and Black’s letter called for the city to require at least 15 units to be affordable to meet the 5% threshold.

The parcel where the project is being proposed was included in the city’s Housing Element, a document that shows where future housing could be built. It identified the site as a space where 95 affordable units could be built in the future.

City staff said the lost units could be made up with accessory dwelling units, which the city is seeing hundreds of applications for annually, however, those units are not required to be offered at affordable prices.

Black’s letter also states that most of the project’s 27,500 square feet of open space would only be accessible to residents, potentially putting the project in conflict with the Coastal Act that requires projects to maintain a portion of its open space as open to the public.

“Unless the Project’s roof decks and pool area will be available to the public, the project is inconsistent with SEASP,” Black wrote.

The project proposed usable green space for the public on the perimeter of the development including connections to bike paths along the San Gabriel River.

An attorney representing Supporters Alliance for Environmental Responsibility said the project’s environmental impact report was flawed because it didn’t contemplate two other large developments being proposed across the street from Congressional Place. Those two projects will be heard by the Planning Commission Thursday.

Together, the three projects could add about 1,300 units at the intersection of PCH and Studebaker.

Councilmember Kristina Duggan, who represents the area where the project is proposed, said that she believed it complied with SEASP and the plan had signaled to developers what the city and residents wanted to see in future developments.

Duggan said the project would bring much-needed housing to the area and the proximity to the 2ND & PCH shopping center made her optimistic that more people would opt to walk to the grocery store, restaurants and other shops instead of using their vehicles.

She added that she would push for the traffic signals in the area to be better synchronized to alleviate the traffic that regularly backs up near the project site.

2 projects that could add nearly 1,000 units to Southeast Long Beach head to Planning Commission

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.