BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
A group of about 20 angry people who live in the vicinity of Elm Avenue and 37th Street met with Eighth District Councilwoman Rae Gabelich early Saturday afternoon. They let her know in no uncertain terms that they strongly oppose the planned development of a five-story, 65-unit senior assisted living facility at 3635 Elm Avenue.
Temple Beth Shalom submitted the project to the Long Beach Planning Commission a few months ago and the commission approved it on August 20. Now the Long Beach City Council must vote on whether to approve a zone change and general plan amendment before the development plans can go forward. The matter is scheduled to go before the council on October 7. On that date, the council will also consider the residents’ appeal of the planning commission decision.
Gabelich explained that the council will only consider the zone change and general plan amendment if the residents’ appeal is denied.
“We are fundamentally opposed to the size of the building, not the use,” said Jim Hannigan. He added that if the developer, Dean Isaacson, does not agree to reduce the number of stories, the residents may mount legal challenges to every aspect of the proposed development.
Contacted by phone, Isaacson said he could never get a loan for a four-story building. “Forty percent of the facility we are planning will be dedicated to common space and amenities to give the seniors a better quality of life,” he explained. “If we eliminated an entire floor, we would have to eliminate 17 residences, which would reduce the income, and if that happened, no bank would give us the loan we need to build the facility.”
During the Saturday meeting, however, one man said he did not believe Isaacson’s assertion that a four-story facility would not be economically viable. He accused Isaacson of being primarily interested in making a hefty profit without regard to the negative impact the building would have on the neighborhood.
“It is an insult and an outrage that someone would be allowed to construct a 65-foot monstrosity within 180 feet of an R1 residence,” said Odette Perreault in a letter she had written to the planning commission. “The adjacent R1 neighborhood has lovely homes on huge lots, which were previously R2. That status has been revoked as part of the General Plan to minimize density in this part of the city.”
(Perreault lives on Elm, very close to the proposed development. An R1 zoning designation allows only one residence on a lot. R2 allows two residences on a lot.)
Perreault noted that since the city will not allow other lots in that neighborhood to be restored to their original R2 designation, it would be wrong to allow the Temple to build such a large building on Elm. She added that the site of the proposed project is smaller than two adjacent R1 lots.
Contacted by phone, Jerry Kaufman, the Temple’s project manager, insisted that the building must be five stories tall. “If we reduced it to four stories, we would lose a lot of the amenities that we want the seniors to have,” he said. “We have listened to the opposition and made many modifications to accommodate them, but reducing the building’s height is not an option for us.”
“We’re the only ones who live here and all the proponents of this project don’t live here,” said Scott Fitzgerald during the Saturday meeting.
“This is a residential neighborhood,” added David Reed. “To me it is unheard of that you are considering this.”
“We do not want the zoning change and the General Plan amendment,” said Don Smith. “What can we do to change this project?
“If there is no commitment to change it, then we are left in the position of having to fight it tooth and nail to stop it completely, while something goes on in the background that might make it acceptable,” Hannigan said.
Gabelich said that after several residents had contacted her a few weeks ago, she understood that they were opposed to the height and the massiveness of the building. “We went to the developer and (in response), he set back the fourth and fifth floors,” she said. “He heard what you said and he reduced it.”
The residents in the audience, however, stuck to their guns, insisting that in spite of the changes the developer had made to the design, a five-story building was not acceptable in their neighborhood. One man angrily asked Gabelich, “Are you the council person representing us or are you the developer’s lobbyist?” He noted that Gabelich had originally run for office as a protector of neighborhoods, but now she seemed to be disregarding the fact that the building would degrade the aesthetics and reduce the values of the homes in the vicinity of the proposed senior apartments.
“The opposition is making something out of nothing,” Kaufman countered. “We are surrounded by churches that are all in support of the project, and it will have no direct impact on any single-family residence.”
During the almost three-hour meeting, residents expressed concern about several issues, including traffic and parking problems, air quality and noise. Perreault noted that about 300 residents in the vicinity of the project had signed a petition opposing it.
Kaufman said approximately 2,000 people had signed a petition in support of the development, and about 240 of those lived within two blocks of the site. “It’s a perfect location for a senior assisted living facility,” he said. “It’s five minutes from a major medical center and very close to many doctors offices and places to shop.”
Gabelich said that, although some issues need to be worked out, she supports the project. “We have a tremendous need for this kind of housing as our population is aging,” she said. “We need to be looking forward and not just at this moment in time; I think it is a good project.”
The residents, however, asked her what she would do to address their concerns.
“I have my list of questions that all have to do with the project from what I have heard here,” Gabelich replied. “I will continue to work with the developer to see what we can do about reducing the size of the building, but I can’t make you any promises.”