After years of debate and legal battles, the Seal Beach City Council unanimously approved plans to build 32 waterfront homes on the city’s last remaining coastal open space.
The approval hinged on a development agreement with the landowners to donate 6.4 acres to the city for use as open space, waiving the $1.1 million the city agreed to pay for the land in a lawsuit settlement reached last year. In exchange for the land, Bay City Partners, the group that owns the land, received approval for its tract map and planning and zoning changes to allow it to build homes on the remaining 4.2 acres of land sandwiched between the beach, Marina Drive, the San Gabriel River and First Street. The city also waived about $320,000 in park-space fees associated with the project and agreed to give 7,600 square feet of First Street to Bayside for development.
“The approval is a favorable compromise that will benefit both the residents of Seal Beach and the landowners,” said Ed Selich, a spokesman for Bayside. “Approval by the City Council now means the project can move forward to the California Coastal Commission for consideration.”
Opponents of the project, who have spent years fighting it, hope the Coastal Commission will withhold approval of the project. Tasked with protecting coastal resources and public access to beaches, the Costal Commission has a reputation for being stricter than cities when it comes to approving coastal projects.
“Audubon will appeal the decision to the Coastal Commission,” said Mary Parsell, conservation chairwoman of El Dorado Audubon.
As an estuary, the land is the likely habitat of three protected local birds: the White-tailed Kite, Northern Harrier and the Horned Lark, said Parsell.
“The habitat and the open space are the big issues,” Parsell said. “People feel cheated. They don’t feel like they got the right percentage of open space.”
When Bayside first bought the property, the land was zoned for 70 percent open space, and the other 30 percent was zoned for a hotel or other visitor-serving facility. The project approved by the city is shy of 70 percent open-space and it counts roadway, a catch basin and a portion of the San Gabriel River as open space.
Included in the agreement is a measure to make sure that the city’s operating budget isn’t used for legal fees if the city faces a lawsuit over the project. The council also sought to make sure the homes being built fit in with the eclectic style of Old Town homes and that the fence currently surrounding the property is taken down so that it will no longer block coastal views.
The fence will come down in September, said Bayside Partner Brian Kyle. There isn’t a timeline for the Coastal Commission to review the project, so the timeline for the housing development remains uncertain, Kyle said. Already, it’s been decades in the making since the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power shut down its station there several decades ago, he said.
“After 35-50 years, this is really good for the city,” Kyle said. “The city can finally start planning the 6.5 acres of park space.”
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