LONG BEACH — Sitting vacant for close to 20 years, a prime piece of real estate in downtown Long Beach is on track to receive a face lift that has divided members of the community.
Last month, the Long Beach City Council narrowly and conditionally approved a design review for a proposed Dollar General store on a Bolstad Avenue West lot that has been empty following a fire in 2002 that destroyed a hotel building located on the property. Approval for the store’s design came in the face of opposition from business owners and community members, saying the addition of a franchise retail store would not be in the community’s best interest.
However, city staff, Long Beach Mayor Jerry Phillips and ultimately a majority of city councilors said that it is not within their purview to tell landowners what they can or can’t do with their property — so long as it’s in compliance with city requirements and has gone through the necessary process.
“I think you’re talking about a real slippery slope when you start telling people what they can and can’t do with their property,” Councilor Holli Kemmer said at the October meeting.
Now, the applicants for the Dollar General store must show they are adhering to the city engineer’s requirements during the plan review, according to Long Beach City Administrator David Glasson. If they do, the next step allows for the applicants to apply for a building permit.
Long and winding road
The lot in question has been owned by the same family for more than 30 years, purchased in 1989 by Way and Priscilla Lee, a married couple residing in Portland. Way was a Portland-based contractor and business owner.
Before graduating from Oregon State College (now Oregon State University) with a degree in industrial engineering, Lee served in World War II as a forward scout and fought in several campaigns in the European Theatre. He was involved in the liberation of France and the Battle of the Bulge. Injured by a mortar shell as the Allies pushed toward Berlin, he received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service and continued his studies after recovering, graduating in 1949.
Way married Priscilla in 1952 and the two started a business, Way W. Lee General Contractor. The company would end up building more than 1,000 houses throughout Portland, and also built commercial and multifamily buildings, including the Jupiter Hotel and Garden Park Apartments. Way also served as a member of the Oregon State Scenic Board and served on the Housing Authority of Portland in the 1980s.
The family’s business ventures expanded throughout the decades, as they also established Gold Coin in the 1970s, a real estate investment and property management company.
Fast-forward to 1989, when two of Way and Priscilla’s children involved in Gold Coin convinced their parents to buy a pair of lots on Bolstad Avenue West in Long Beach. The eastern lot housed the Ocean Lodge, consisting of approximately 23 rental units in five buildings with a pool.
In 1996, a second hotel, dubbed Ocean Lodge II, was constructed on the western lot closest to the beach. One year later, in November 1997, Priscilla passed away.
Up in smoke
In November 2002, a fire broke out on the original Ocean Lodge lot, destroying the hotel’s annex building that housed six rooms, a hot tub area, a sauna area, an outdoor pool and several other rooms used for storage and equipment. Two guests staying in one of the building’s rooms were rescued by a Long Beach firefighter.
Approximately 50 guests in nearby hotels were evacuated due to 50 pounds of powdered chlorine that was being stored in the annex building. That amount of chlorine had the potential to cause serious eye and respiratory irritation, Long Beach Fire Department officials said at the time.
Officials also considered evacuating the entire neighborhood, due to the presence of a 500-gallon propane tank on the north side of the annex. The tank, which was two-thirds full, could have taken out a two-block area if it exploded, they said.
To keep the tank from exploding, an engine from the Ilwaco Fire Department was called in to provide exposure control to protect the tank. The Red Cross assisted the potential evacuation of the neighborhood, which fortunately didn’t materialized.
The original Ocean Lodge hotel was never rebuilt following the fire, and the lot has remained vacant ever since.
Ken Lee, one of Way and Priscilla’s four children who now runs the family businesses, said that they had planned to expand Ocean Lodge II before the 2002 fire, adding a conference facility and additional rooms on the western lot. Complications arose from Long Beach’s design requirements, however, which would have required Ocean Lodge II to be re-sided. In addition, Ken’s two younger siblings left the family business in 2000.
In 2006, the family received an offer and sold the Ocean Lodge II property, now the Oceanview Inn at the Arch.
The path ahead
With the original Ocean Lodge lot vacant, the family mulled over what to do with the remaining Bolstad lot they still owned.
In 2012, 10 years after the fire, Ken Lee said he studied the possibility of building something similar to the Downtown Container Park in Las Vegas. The park is an outdoor shopping mall and entertainment complex, and was conceived by a group that was dedicated to revitalizing the old Downtown Las Vegas — not to be confused with the Las Vegas Strip.
Ultimately, Lee said, it would have required the purchasing of more property, and the plans also didn’t meet Long Beach’s zoning design requirements. Then, in October 2013, his father died.
“I was in the process of pricing it before finding out if there was the possibility of obtaining a variance, but then my father passed away,” Lee said. “The settlement of his estate and estate taxes have pushed back any development of the property by ourselves several years into the future.”
Recently, Gold Coin received an offer from a buyer wanting to purchase the lot and build a Dollar General store. Lee said his company was willing to sell, but then a gas and diesel fuel spill contamination was discovered.
The source of the contamination is unknown, Lee said, adding that they did discover an abandoned heating oil tank and were able to remove it, “but the tank was intact and the soil around it was not contaminated.” He noted that people have been parking on the lot without permission for years, especially during Rod Run. He’s also seen a photograph of construction equipment parked in the area of contamination in the past, but said there’s no direct evidence of any spills or dumps.
“Right now, it looks like the contamination level is dropping through natural attenuation,” Lee said. “If we leave the fence up for about 2-3 years and do semi-annual and then quarterly testing per the Washington Department of Ecology guidelines, the levels should drop below cleanup levels. However, this can be accelerated with additional excavation and chemical treatment.”
Speeding the cleanup
Following the discovery of the contamination, the interested buyer proposed to make Gold Coin a partner in the venture while also accelerating the cleanup with a chemical treatment process, which takes us to where things are today.
With the approval of the design review for the proposed Dollar General store, construction drawings have been ordered for the building permits, Lee said. Bids are also being sent out for the required environmental cleanup.
While the covid-19 pandemic has slowed down the process somewhat, Lee said it has not noticeably disrupted the plans for the lot, which are to build and open the store for business in 2021.