SOUTH BEND - A hearing in Superior Court in South Bend last Thursday paved the way for a final court ruling on the city's denial of a planned unit development (PUD) for a high-density condominium development in north Long Beach. A PUD is a key element in getting a development of this type off the ground, and without one, there is no chance it can be built.

Local developer Robert 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.

The PUD was denied on Jan. 6 at a city council meeting. By Jan. 24, Charlie Klinge, with Groen Stephens & Klinge LLP in Bellevue, a law firm representing Merrill, 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 lawsuit alleges that the city of Long Beach unfairly denied the PUD and is aimed at getting a reversal of this decision.

The city council denied the PUD in January based on a Long Beach Planning Commission recommendation made 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.

According to Jeff Myers, an Olympia attorney representing the city of Long Beach in this matter, the April 3 hearing in Superior Court was simply an initial hearing, which precludes a final ruling.

"This was just a preliminary skirmish," said Myers. "The judge set a hearing to consider the arguments on July 10 at 1:30 p.m. He will make a final ruling after that hearing."

Also at the hearing on April 3, an attempt was made by Merrill's attorney Charlie Klinge to depose Long Beach Planning Commission and Long Beach City Council members, as to their methods and processes they used to render their decision, but he was denied.

"The city was pleased with this first court ruling," said Long Beach City Administrator Nabiel Shawa. "At the heart of the Merrill condo issue is the density in S2 zoning in Long Beach."

Myers concurred, and pointed out that the density issue is one of the main reasons why the PUD was denied.

"I think the court's decision in July will focus on the different interpretations the parties have about the density restrictions," said Myers. "I think it is an important decision in interpreting the city's zoning code and critical for the Merrills to know whether to revise their proposal - in particular the density of the project."

Merrill has also run into opposition in terms of getting necessary permits for his proposed condo development.

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 eventually convened for a late March special meeting.

At this meeting, the city council upheld Kaino's ruling, denying a shoreline permit for the development. 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.

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 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.

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