August 1, 2008
Home Depot Plans May Be Boxed Out
By Karen Robes Meeks
LONG BEACH - A developer's settlement with neighborhood and environmental groups may have all but ended $21.5-million plans for a Home Depot design center on 16.5 acres east of Studebaker Road at Loynes Drive, leaving its fate uncertain.The Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust announced that developer Tom Dean of Studebaker LLC has settled with the trust and the University Park Estates Neighborhood Association.
According to the Land Trust's release, Dean agreed to settle for an undisclosed amount in legal fees, give up fighting a judge's ruling to decertify the environmental impact report approved by the City Council and vacate all permit approvals.
An attorney representing Dean could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Land Trust treasurer Ann Cantrell, whose group fought the project because it feared the development would negatively affect the surrounding wetlands, called the settlement "a very significant victory."
"It means that the developer is going to have to find something to put there that is compatible with the surrounding wetlands, and he'll have to do an adequate EIR next time," she said. "The judge has made this clear. Our goal is to save and restore the wetlands and I think this puts us closer to achieving that goal."
Homeowners Association President Janice Dahl said city planners now have fresh opportunities to provide better proposals for the coastal zone area. She said any threat of introducing industrial use at the property would encounter stiff resistance locally and from the state Coastal Commission.
The area is now zoned for general industrial uses.
"We're all saying this victory is a win-win for all southeast Long Beach," she said, adding that development of the Dean site, along with the restoration of the adjacent wetlands will draw many visitors to the area. "It will not be a 'crackerbox' development, but something people will marvel at."
What happens next to the site remains in question. It is not yet clear whether Dean would keep the property and develop something new there or sell it.
Sources close to the settlement said that Long Beach is required in the next few months to demonstrate that it has invalidated the project's conditional use permit, the site plan, the tentative tract map and standard variance.
News of the settlement surprised some in the city.
Planning Bureau Manager Greg Carpenter said he had been waiting to hear back from Dean about the direction of the development when he found out about the settlement.
City Manager Pat West also said the settlement was news to him.
"We're looking forward to talking to the property owner about what his next steps are," West said.
Since submitting his project in August 2003, Dean's vision for a design center with 12,000 square feet of retail, 6,000 square feet of restaurant space and the project's centerpiece - a 140,000- square- foot Home Depot with a garden center - has been met with controversy and litigation.
Critics contend that the project would have negative impacts on the Los Cerritos Wetlands and on traffic.
Despite opponents' concerns, the council voted 6-3 in favor of certifying the EIR in 2006. Councilman Gary DeLong, whose 3 rd District encompasses the project, said at the time that Home Depot would create good jobs, bring in tax revenue and improve the property. He also said at the time that his constituents supported the project.
DeLong, who was in Washington, D.C., could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The homeowners' association and the wetlands Land Trust took the matter to court, where a Los Angeles Superior Court judge sided with the two groups and tentatively ruled in 2007 that the city-approved EIR was was inadequate.
Dean was intending to appeal the judge's ruling. But it was rumored that a settlement was imminent.
Councilman Patrick O'Donnell, who had been opposed to the project's EIR, said community input into whatever comes next at the site is vital.
"The community, the neighborhoods surrounding the wetlands have spoken and their message is clear," he said. "Save the wetlands. So going forward what we need to do is to create a process of opinions ... and choose how we want (the site) to look as a community."
Staff Writer Joe Segura contributed to this report. [email protected], 562-499-1303
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