BELL — Citing a need to overhaul zoning regulations in the face of rapid population growth, the City Council has extended an 8-month-old moratorium on construction of apartments and condominiums for a maximum of one year.
In unanimously approving the measure Monday, council members noted that the moratorium will be rescinded as soon as zoning ordinances have been revised. Zoning changes are under review as part of the city's general plan, which was last updated in 1969, officials said.
Between 1978 and 1983, Bell's population jumped from 21,980 to 27,760 persons, county statistics show. Today, the square-mile city is one of Southern California's densest.
The rapid growth has placed a heavy burden on Bell's traffic, sewers, parks and schools (now on a year-round schedule to relieve overcrowding) and even its water system.
"We want to try to plan so that this density doesn't keep going at an unbridled rate," Councilman Ray Johnson said. "Maybe we don't need more people." The city, he said, needs to look at "what we are and what we want to become."
Action in Other Cities
Earlier this year, South Gate and Montebello approved one-year moratoriums on apartment construction, similar to Bell's. Those cities also cited increased population density and a need to rewrite their zoning codes.
Three or four apartment projects have been held up by Bell's moratorium, according to David Meyer, community development director.
He said the city staff will need at least two months to recommend revisions in the zoning code and at least five months to review the general plan, which includes provisions for public safety, parks, open space, noise and population.
Bell wants to encourage new construction in the community and at the same time "maintain a population level we can adequately serve," Meyer said. "We don't know what that is at this point."
In 1980, Bell had a population of 25,450. About 5,840 housing units, or 66% of the city's units, were renter-occupied, census figures show. Since then, fewer than 50 apartment units have been built in Bell, many of them without adequate space for children to play, city officials said. Current zoning laws permit construction of apartments on 40% of the city's land.
Issue Is 'Quality of Life'
Councilman George Cole said the city needs to set rules on play areas as well as specifying a minimum requirement for floor space and a maximum number of units per lot. The city, Cole said, wants to "make a better quality of living for everybody."
In listing his reasons for supporting a moratorium, Johnson expressed concern that the city's water pressure might not be sufficient to put out a fire in some high-density areas.
Although water flow has not yet been a serious problem for firefighters in Bell, "there are some trouble spots here and there," said Capt. Ed Thacher of the Los Angeles County Fire Department. The city's 30-year-old water mains are smaller than current regulations require and could cause problems for firefighters in crowded areas, Thacher said.
Bell's apartment moratorium and population-density study is "good news," he said. "They're smart if they're looking at that. Any time you have more people, you have more problems."