No gym in shopping center

Area citizens wait outside the Council Chambers for the Sept. 11 meeting to begin. Photo by Charles M. Kelly

There will be no health club in the Shops at Rossmoor. The Seal Beach City Council voted 3-2 early Tuesday morning, Sept. 12, to deny the appeal of the permit of the health club that had been proposed for the Shops at Rossmoor. Mayor Sandra Massa-Lavitt and District Three Councilman Mike Varipapa cast the dissenting votes. The meeting lasted approximately eight hours.

Even if the project had been approved, Marty Potts, representing the shopping center, told the council that LA Fitness had pulled out of the project, feeling the opposition had damaged their brand.

The council also voted 3-2 to certify the Final Environmental Impact Report for the project. Council members Schelly Sustarsic, of District Four, and Thomas Moore, of District Two, cast the dissenting votes.

City Attorney Craig Steele said a certified EIR without a project wouldn’t have any meaning.

Potts, on behalf of the shopping center had appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to deny a conditional use permit to build a 37,000 square foot gym in the shopping center that borders Rossmoor. Rebecca Lynn Allie, representing the Coalition Against LA Fitness in Seal Beach, appealed the commission’s decision to certify the Final Environmental Impact Report for the project.

Moe Mohanna, speaking on behalf of the coalition, said the opponents were willing to work with the landowner/developer to find a use for the property that was suitable for both the developer and the community.

District One Councilwoman Ellery Deaton said she hoped they meant it. She pointed out that area residents had also opposed housing in the shopping center as well as the health club.

The hearing

Opponents and supporters filled the council chamber to standing room only when the meeting began Monday night. Opponents wore glow sticks to signify their unity and opposition to the project.

More than 40 people testified at the project hearing, including consultants and city staff members. Potts proposed adding a police sub station to the project to allay area residents’ concerns that a gym would lead to an increase in crime.

Potts said one alternative to the gym would be a 40,000 square foot office project. He said those buildings would be closer to residences than the proposed health club.

A woman named Helen was among the few who spoke in favor of the project. She pointed out that the old Rossmoor Athletic Club had been a large, two-story gym that existed outside the Montecito Road condominiums for two decades, yet the club did not cause an increase in crime. She was an LA Fitness club member and a cancer survivor. “There are no big, affordable gyms in Seal Beach,” she said.

Tony Demarco, another member of the coalition opposing the project, said he believed the EIR was based on a faulty analysis. He said the coalition’s own study found a noise level of 86 decibels in the area where the gym would be built. According to Demarco, the EIR said there would be no noise impact on residential properties.

Planning Commissioner Patty Campbell said the California Environmental Quality Act requires the EIR to list sites for the project and said none were listed. She said parking and noise issues were legitimate concerns for area residents.

Council perspectives

Councilman Moore said the project should probably be denied. According to Moore, the traffic study’s conclusion that only a minority of drivers would use Montecito Road was not realistic.

Councilwoman Deaton said the EIR met the law. She listed the findings she needed to make to support the conditional use permit for the project. One of those findings was that the land use would be compatible with the neighborhood. “This is not in my mind a compatible use,” Deaton said.

She expressed concern that the early morning operating hours would be detrimental.

“There’s been no talk about classes,” she said, apparently referring to health classes at a gym.

She pointed out that since LA Fitness had pulled out of the project, the city really didn’t know what the hours of operation would be.

“If there’s no LA Fitness, I’m not sure why we’re here,” she said.

Councilman Varipapa said, “We had a lot of experts to look at this process.”

He said that with all those eyes on the EIR, there were not a lot of holes in it.

He listed various other health clubs he had visited. He said he thought the proposed 37,000 square foot gym was smaller than the others.

Massa-Lavitt also spoke in favor of the EIR. “It’s not perfect, but it is adequate,” she said.

She also said she had no problem with the traffic study overall. She said her constituents were in favor of the project.

Several times both Sustarsic and Moore questioned the validity of the traffic study.

After the votes

Because city staff had prepared a resolution to certify the EIR (and deny the coalition’s appeal) and another resolution upholding Potts’ appeal of the Planning Commission decision to deny the permit, the council meeting recessed at approximately 1:38 a.m., so the city attorney could draft a resolution that formally put an end to the proposed health club. Asked what he would have done if the project had been approved, Potts said that LA Fitness was not the only health club operator.

Later Tuesday morning, Councilman Moore emailed additional comments to the Sun.

“This was a very difficult decision for me,” he wrote. “There are a lot of residents in my district that wanted the gym and a lot that did not. I think it is important for residents to know that LA Fitness pulled out of the project completely before the public hearing, so an LA Fitness would not have gone in that location regardless. I listened to the facts on both sides and saw some gaps in calculating the average daily visits which could have been more accurate if local gyms were included in the study.

“When I make a decision, I try to put myself in the shoes of the residents that live near that project. Having a large gym within 150-200 feet of residences opening at 4:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. at night is just not a good fit for that location and would have a negative impact on the quality of life for those that live near that location.”