Long Beach Needs Guidelines For Condo Towers

Long Beach has always been considered a sleepy little bedroom community. But according to its fire chief, his hometown is waking up.

"We're on the cusp of breaking loose," George Bass said.

The city's sudden explosion can be traced to blueprints and drawings in the Long Beach planning office. They're from developers who have a sudden interest in Long Beach as a high rise condominium town.

Billy Skellie is the Long Beach mayor.

"As you start looking at the big picture," he said, "you can certainly see how we're a prime target for this type of development."

But sketches of 12 to 20 story condos can only become a reality if Long Beach updates one specific word of its zoning ordinance.

"Density," said the mayor. "We're going back to density. And that's going to regulate everything."

For instance, how many units can a condominium have per acre? In Gulfport, Mayor Skellie found out that number was 36. It was 35 units per acre in Biloxi. It was more than 40 in Destin, Florida.

But, Long Beach can't answer the units per acre question right now. So city planners are studying neighboring rules, to learn what infrastructure needs they should incorporate in Long Beach's high rise condominium guidelines.

"We're trying to tackle the situation of having an ordinance that would cover this high density type development," Skellie said.

While planners fine tune their ordinance, the fire chief is analyzing his needs.

"The number one thing is manpower," Chief Bass said. "We're looking at having to add at least 12 firefighters."

Bass has been told a dozen new firemen will be enough to protect the entire city, if a fire ever broke out in one of the proposed high rises.

Right now, the Long Beach planning office has sketches from three high rise condominium developers. Every project is in a Highway 90 commercial zoning district. So variances will be required before the condos can be built.