The New and Improved Huntington Beach! (With Interest)

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The new Huntington Beach?
After having received the unanimous approval of the Huntington Beach Planning Commission in January, an ambitious proposal to remake the city's main corridor is scheduled to go before the City Council on March 1.

Many suspect the plan will get the council's nod as well. Transforming miles and miles of Beach Boulevard strip malls into vertiginous clusters of pedestrian friendly shopping and living is something city leaders can get solidly behind.

So, why have resident groups come out so strongly against the Beach Boulevard and Edinger Corridor Specific Plan?

To answer that, you first must know more about the project. It encompasses 459 acres, spanning Beach from Pacific Coast Highway to Edinger Avenue, and Edinger west of Beach to just past Golden West Avenue.

The transformation starts with rezoning around the major intersections, creating the opportunity for property owners to develop mixed-use moneymakers, like retail on street level, and residential above. The project has a time span of 20-plus years.

Former Huntington Beach Mayor, current Councilman and real estate developer Keith Bohr supports the plan. He's hoping operating property owners will be "incentivized" by the prospect of making more money with the mixed-use zoning, which will lead them to buy up property from owners who'd rather have the cash. The property that is consolidated into big enough parcels can then be developed. However, this process will take time, and city officials say they won't get involved.

Bohr says that eminent domain is not an option because the Edinger and Beach Corridor project is under the purview of the Planning Department, not the Redevelopment Agency. Still, it is possible that some properties being assessed in the RA's Shopping Center Blight Study that fall in the Edinger and Beach project area will be condemned, and thus, open to eminent domain.

Bohr acknowledges that for some landowners, the plan has too many disincentives. The private sector is expected to front the bill for the remodels by taking out large loans. Those who own a property free and clear--which means an unencumbered cash flow--have no reason to embark on a project that comes with debt and headaches. The city, meanwhile, can offer nothing to kick-start the project.

"Maybe further down the road we can do some of the public improvements," said Bohr, "but right now we have nothing to put into it. Unfortunately."

And Bohr admits that a loan is unlikely.

"In this economy nobody can get a loan, period. But if they have some money at least they can do the planning part. They can start hiring their architects and start going through the city process, which can take you the better part of a year when it's all said and done."

In the meantime, Bohr advises the loanee to "sit and wait for the markets to come back, and for the lending community to start being friendly."

Bohr is a bit of a development fiend; packing more density into Huntington means more shoppers, more tax revenue, more money circulating in the city. Bohr says that currently, Huntington Beach bleeds tens of millions of dollars each year in other cities spending centers, such as South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa and the Westminster Mall. In spite of this, some HB residents would be happy to thwart the high-density plan.

Community organization Huntington Beach Tomorrow argued that the Beach and Edinger Corridor study is flawed, and that projects are coming through the city faster than they can process them. Throughout the Beach Boulevard and Edinger Avenue Corridor Study process, starting in 2007, notices were sent to all 550 individual privately held properties within the planning area, said Associate Planner Rosemary Medel. All were invited to community workshops and City Council study sessions.

"We mailed them to all the interested parties. For the December Environmental Impact Report meeting, we had a mailing list of over 2,200 people."

So, 550 individual privately held property owners and additional interested parties, what do you think of this plan? Medel says 75 people showed up to each session. Bohr puts the number around 40. At best, that leaves about 1,500 interested parties who could be staring at 20 or more years of stalled developments, faulty loans, and ego-tripping architects.

Or, do you like the plan? Leave your comments below, and tell your friends and neighbors to do the same.

The final City Council vote to approve the Beach and Edinger Corridor Specific Plan is scheduled for 4 p.m. March 1 at the City Council chambers at 2000 Main St., Huntington Beach.

Once the plan is approved, "it's fair game," said Bohr. "Folks can start filling out applications, get their conditional use permit, and do whatever they want to do with the new zoning."

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