LONG BEACH - At a special meeting Monday afternoon, the Long Beach City Council upheld a ruling made late last year by the city's hearings examiner, denying a shoreline permit for a condominium development in north Long Beach being proposed by local developer Robert Merrill.
As a result of this decision by the city council, the only chance of the condos being built is if the Shorelines Hearings Board in Olympia intervenes and agrees to grant the permit.
Merrill first proposed plans for a high-density, 126-unit housing development on his north Long Beach oceanfront property near 18th Street NW and Ocean Boulevard last July, but since that time he has had a difficult time getting approval from the city.
In mid-December last year, Long Beach Hearings Examiner Chris Kaino denied the shoreline substantial development permit (SSDP), which led to a Feb. 18 closed record appeal hearing to overturn Kaino's decision. Overturning Kaino's decision was ultimately up to the city council, which convened for Monday's special meeting.
The appeal of the SSDP for the Merrill project has been the least of the city's headaches in regard to the proposed Merrill condo development. In late January the city received papers from Charlie Klinge, with Groen Stephens & Klinge LLP in Bellevue, a law firm representing Merrill, that the city was being sued by Merrill for denial of the PUD for the development.
A PUD is another key element to getting a project of this type off the ground, and without one, there is no possibility of constructing it.
The PUD was denied on Jan. 6 at a city council meeting. By Jan. 24, Klinge filed a lawsuit against the city on Merrill's behalf. This lawsuit is a land use petition based on the state's Land Use Petition Act, which is for challenging decisions such as denial of Merrill's PUD.
The decision over the PUD went to the city council in January after the Long Beach Planning Commission made a recommendation to deny it late last year.
Klinge alleges in his lawsuit against the city that the city needed a written decision in order to deny the PUD, and that the Jan. 6 decision was made based solely on an oral decision, which he said was illegal.
A hearing in regard to the denial of the PUD is scheduled for Thursday, April 3, in Superior Court in South Bend at 9 a.m.
Klinge was present at the special meeting on Monday and said he was obviously disappointed that the city council disagreed with his arguments to reverse Kaino's denial of the shoreline permit.
"I think they made a mistake," said Klinge. "I think our project is consistent with the Shoreline Master Program, including the density and the type of project. So, because we are consistent with the shoreline plan, I believe they should have granted approval."
According to Klinge, Merrill will take the matter to the Shorelines Hearings Board in Olympia, "because the city has not given us another option."
"The city's denial of this carefully designed and tourist-generating project makes no sense, especially in a struggling economy, and we are confident that the Shorelines Hearings Board will agree," said Klinge.
The battle over Merrill's proposed condo development took another turn last week when Merrill announced he has brought an international timeshare company into the fray.
Through his agreement with Resort Condominiums International Community (RCI), which caters to an estimated three million timeshare owners worldwide, Merrill put some teeth into his efforts to get the city of Long Beach to reverse earlier decisions, such as denial of the PUD and SSDP, which have effectively blocked the development.
According to Long Beach City Planner Jim Sayce, the fact that Merrill is bringing in an international timeshare company is an interesting turn of events, particularly since it was only in recent months that Merrill made it clear that the condo development he wants would be catering to itinerant tenants.
"The term that was used in the application for the development and also during testimony at the joint shoreline/PUD hearing last year was for 'fractional ownership,'" said Sayce. "This can be interpreted in various ways, such as meaning itinerant residency, which is 30 days or less. It can also mean timeshare, which would allow pooling ownership allotment."
According to Sayce, from the city's point of view, it comes down to whether Merrill's plans are to have a condo development which would be for itinerant housing or if he wants to build a development which would have permanent full-time residents.
"The problem is that you have an application [for the development] that, on face value, asks for itinerant housing in a high-density setting in a part of the city that is zoned S2 Shoreline Residential, which is basically set up for medium density residential and no itinerant accommodations."
Sayce went on to say that if Merrill were somehow able to get approval for a high-density itinerant condo development on his property, the city would want to collect motel/hotel taxes.
"But the truth of the matter is that itinerant housing just isn't allowed in that zone (S2)," said Sayce. "What we are doing as a city is guarding against intrusion of incompatible uses in residential neighborhoods, which the city does by supporting its own planning documents, such as the Shoreline Master Program and the zoning code."
The plans for Merrill's condo development, as well as the city of Long Beach, have also drawn fire due to the fact that Merrill was able to get the property rezoned from S1 Residential/Single-family to S2 Residential/Multi-family in 1998, apparently without having to notify any neighbors.