CARSON — A 124-room Civic Center-area motel has been voted down by the City Council amid charges that officials are protecting the interests of a proposed Hilton hotel.
The City Council in a 4-0 vote Tuesday night reversed its Planning Commission's approval of a conditional-use permit for the Western 6 motel--after a year of planning and a million-dollar investment by the developer.
"Everyone knows the city of Carson has more than $2 million invested in the Hilton hotel--that's a matter of public record," said Joseph Ciasulli, attorney for Western 6 Motels Inc. "The city wants to make it as amenable as possible for the Hilton to come in; one way to do that is to eliminate the competition."
The council, with member Thomas Mills absent, halted the project on grounds that a motel would snarl traffic and was not the best use for the property. The Western 6 motel was to be located at 213th Street and Avalon Boulevard, about two blocks from the proposed Hilton project.
"Traffic circulation is probably the No. 1 problem," said Councilman Walter J. Egan, who initiated the appeal of the Planning Commission decision. "It's impossible to widen 213th Street. I believe that an office complex would be a better use for the property."
Said Ciasulli in an interview Wednesday, "When the council members raise what I think are non-issues, it only means they do not want to jeopardize their investment in the Hilton. The traffic problem seemed to be the council's greatest concern and it is irrelevant to their analysis. If we built a shopping center or an office building, there would be more traffic."
He added, "I don't think you have to be a genius to see what was going on."
Council members were joined in their opposition to the motel by some residents of Bel Aire Park, a mobile home park that abuts the motel property. Mobile home resident Herbert Wider presented the council a petition of 50 signatures asking that the motel permit be denied because residents feared the facility might foster crime.
Council members agreed that the a motel might present problems for the mobile home dwellers, but also voiced strong concerns that the project would be incompatible with the architecture of Carson's Civic Center.
Said Councilwoman Vera Robles DeWitt, "That (property) is part of the Civic Center area, and the whole development of the Civic Center is very sensitive. It's clear that we're not protecting the interests of the Hilton; there's no validity in those charges. As it is now, we don't even have a Hilton hotel."
The Hilton project has been in limbo for two months, since its developer allowed his November option to expire on the city-owned site. Council members will meet Jan. 29 to discuss development of the $4.2-million property.
Despite the council's contention that numerous issues prohibited approval of the motel plans, Western 6 attorneys maintained that the Hilton proposal is the only possible roadblock to the project. They said that representatives from the motel chain had agreed to meet city demands on an array of issues surrounding the project during Planning Commission hearings held last month.
"We are totally committed to meeting any of the city's concerns about this project," said Robert Crowell, executive vice president of Shaughnessy Opcon Corp., national owner and operator of the Western 6 chain, during the council hearing.
Denial of Western 6 motel plans comes in the wake of a city moratorium on the construction of motels and hotels. The five-month moratorium, which was imposed to allow the city time to revise its development standards, had previously delayed the project. The moratorium expired in October.
Developers said they were particularly frustrated with the city's decision because the moratorium had forced them to "jump through hoops" to comply with ever-changing city demands.
However, Community Development Director Patricia Nemeth said that while Western 6 was willing to comply with minor adjustments in its plans, it never agreed to pursue major revisions.
"They never said they would reduce the density," said Nemeth, who called the budget motel a "low-grade" facility. She also said the developers were not amenable to providing a motel coffee shop or making major landscaping changes.