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Long Beach ZBA rejects two-family home proposals

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The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals has turned down a proposal by a Long Beach developer to convert six homes on East Pine Street, in the largely Black North Park section, into two family homes that would be rented at federally-approved affordable rates.
All seven members of the ZBA voted at a meeting April 22 to reject the proposal by developer Darren Gallo to convert the homes. The proposal had the support of Habitat for Humanity and James Hodge, chairman of the Martin Luther King Center in Long Beach.

Under the plan Gallo outlined for the ZBA in February, the homes would be rented for 10 years, and the renters would be given the first opportunity to purchase them. Rents would be about $2,650 a month for the houses, which would have three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
The homes were at 24, 26, 82, 88, 114 and 118 East Pine.
The rentals would not be limited to Long Beach residents. Six of the 12 renters would be selected by Habitat for Humanity. But the proposal had previously raised questions from ZBA members, who asked how renters would be able to afford to purchase the homes.
Board members said at the ZBA meeting that the proposal amounted to a request to re-zone the area, something the board said it does not have the authority to do.
Board chairman Rocco Morelli said after the vote that he favors affordable housing and wants to see such housing in Long Beach, echoing the sentiments of other members.
“I want to see affordable housing,” Morelli said. “But recognizing that these are multiple homes, (the proposal) would have meant re-zoning of the are, which the board does not have the authority to do.”
Morelli also said it was “not satisfactory” that tenants would be given a first offer to buy the homes. The proposal did not provide a cap on the price of the homes, he said.
“I would like to see the area re-zoned, and for the tenants to have not just the right of first refusal.” The tenants, he said, would have only “a pipe dream” of buying the home.
In an interview, Gallo said, “It’s a sad day for Long Beach.” Gallo said he would continue to renovate the homes, but they would not be for affordable housing. He said “a miracle” would needed for the ZBA o the Long Beach City Councuil to turn mattwers around and allow the affordable housing. Gallo said the property is in a state-create Opportunity Zone.
The houses are in a federally declared Opportunity Zone, where they can be rented at below-market rates. But the homes must be completed in a certain time frame., Gallo said the time is fast slipping by.
Opportunity Zones were created by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, and are aimed at stimulating investment, economic development and job creation in economically distressed areas. Developers do not have to declare capital gains in such zones. But the homes must be completed in a certain time frame, Gallo said the time is fast slipping by to retain the benefits of the Opportunity Zone.
“I did this because I wanted to give back to Long Beach,” Gallo said. “I wanted people to live like I live.”
Hodge said he and other community activists would continue to fight for affordable housing units in Long Beach.
“It’s something we have to continue to try to do,” Hodge said. “The city has not built new affordable housing units in North Park in a long time. We are going to work as hard as we can to get affordable housing, not just for North Park, but for Long Beach and well.”

(Story originally published in the April 29 edition)