The Long Beach Planning Commission unanimously approved a plan Thursday that will guide the redevelopment of the Century Villages at Cabrillo over the next decade.

The commission’s approval of the village’s Specific Plan means the supportive housing community is one step closer to increasing its number of affordable housing units to 1,380. The City Council still has to approve the plan.

“It’s a great plan and a piece of the puzzle to addressing housing and homelessness in the city,” said Chris Koontz, the city’s acting director of Development Services, before the Thursday meeting.

Over the next 10 years, the Century Villages at Cabrillo, which currently provides housing to about 1,500 people on any given night, a large portion of which are veterans, will redevelop old naval housing buildings, converting those structures into “modern affordable housing and service facilities,” according to a city staff report on the project.

The plan also “strengthens linkages” throughout the community by standardizing streets, connecting walkway and bicycle networks and extending the transit system, according to city officials.

Brian D’Andrea, president of the Century Villages at Cabrillo, told commissioners that the Specific Plan was a “roadmap and a guide” for the community as it expands to help more people.

Once owned by the U.S. Navy, the 27-acre parcels that became the Century Villages at Cabrillo were transferred in 1997 to the nonprofit Villages at Cabrillo to provide transitional and permanent housing to homeless people and those at risk of becoming homeless, according to city officials.

The community has been under redevelopment since 2011, according to Development Services records on the project. When the 90-unit Cove apartment building that’s currently under construction is finished, the villages will include 865 dwelling units, 54,730 nonresidential square feet and 512 parking spaces, according to city staff.

The redevelopment plan approved by the commission calls for demolishing 235 of those dwelling units, along with 10,030 square feet of amenities, including convenience stores, the cafeteria and weight room, another 10,200 square feet of educational uses, 7,250 square feet of administrative services and 153 parking spaces.

The majority of buildings that will be demolished are along Williams Street and toward the north end of San Gabriel Avenue, according to the project’s environmental impact report.

Once that’s completed, 750 new housing units will be built, as well as 77,000 square feet of amenities, 15,000 square feet of educational uses, 17,000 square feet of commercial/retail uses, 48,000 square feet of administrative and supportive services and 518 parking spaces, according to the Specific Plan.

When completed in 2033, Century Villages at Cabrillo will include 1,380 dwelling units, 79,350 square feet of amenities, 15,000 square feet of educational uses, 22,850 square feet of commercial/retail uses, 67,050 square feet of administrative and supportive services and 877 parking spaces.

Construction activities from the project could generate increased air pollution that would exceed the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s regional thresholds for volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides, according to the project’s Environmental Impact Report. Painting would produce the volatile organic compounds while construction equipment exhaust would be the source of the nitrogen oxide, according to the report.

Even with mitigation measures like dust control and regulations on the use of construction equipment, the air quality impacts would still be “significant and unavoidable,” according to the EIR.

The project could also generate a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions that would be “potentially significant,” according to the EIR.

In a Statement of Overriding Considerations, which is commonly included in projects like this, city officials said these impacts are acceptable because the benefits of the project outweigh its effects on the environment.

West Long Beach residents have long lived with some of the city’s highest air pollution rates.

The project could also impact the habitats of overwintering Monarch butterflies, nesting birds and raptors like red-tailed hawks, and bats, according to an Aug. 2, 2021 letter from Department Fish & Game officials to the city that’s included in the project’s environmental documents.

But city officials dispute that, saying surveys conducted in late September and mid-October 2021 showed that no overwintering Monarch butterflies were observed at the proposed redevelopment sites, and other studies have showed that no bats nest there, according to the project’s Environmental Impact Report. As for nesting raptors, city officials responded that while they could not locate any such habitats, they will complete nesting bird surveys prior to the removal of any trees or vegetation.

The City Council still has to approve the villages’ specific plan. Koontz did not know when that would take place, though it has to happen on or before their Dec. 13 meeting, he said.

Assuming the City Council also approves the project, construction is expected to start in early 2023, according to city officials.

Anthony Pignataro is an investigative reporter and editor for the Long Beach Post. He has close to three decades of experience in journalism leading numerous investigations and long-form journalism projects for the OC Weekly and other publications. He joined the Post in May 2021.