WILMINGTON — A homeowner group has won a battle against the proposed construction of a high-density apartment complex in the most recent in a string of successful community activist efforts in Wilmington.
After staunch community opposition to the project at a preliminary hearing in September, the Los Angeles Planning Commission voted unanimously last week to deny a zoning change needed to construct the 189-unit apartment development in east Wilmington.
Planning officials said the proposal was "out of character" with the adjacent low-density neighborhood and "contrary to community desires." Although the Planning Commission's decision could be appealed, the developer said he has not decided whether to do that.
300 Signed Petitions
"I think the community was heard," said Peter Mendoza, president of the Wilmington Home Owners, which helped draw about 50 people to the preliminary hearing and garnered 300 signatures in opposition to the development.
"I consider it a victory," Mendoza said. "There were good technical reasons for turning down the project, but in the past, good technical reasons have not been enough. I think the homeowners' opposition really helped."
During the last three years, other community activist efforts have helped block the development of a major hazardous-waste treatment plant, delay permits for other toxic-waste facilities, eliminate the storage of dust-generating petroleum coke in residential neighborhoods, prevent the opening of a halfway house for prison parolees and ease traffic problems caused by a local trucking company.
The battle against the apartment development is the first tackled by the 200-member homeowner group, which was formed in late August by residents who charged that Wilmington has long had no voice in the government decisions that affect it.
Reasons for Opposition
Group members opposed the apartment development because they said it would aggravate overcrowded conditions in Wilmington schools, increase traffic problems, strain law enforcement resources and exacerbate land-use conflicts.
Those sentiments, expressed in sometimes emotional testimony at the preliminary hearing Sept. 9, contributed to a hearing examiner's decision to recommend against the requested zoning change, according to the examiner's report. The Planning Commission, with Chairman Daniel Garcia absent, supported that decision at a hearing last Thursday.
The commission's action, however, could be appealed to the Los Angeles City Council.
"I'm not sure yet if I'm going to appeal it," said developer Steve Grace, president of Cash Flow Equities of Lomita. "I'm thinking it over, and it may be that that area does not behoove residential development. I may just go ahead and build what the (current) zoning calls for."
Zoning on the east Wilmington property--a 6.16-acre site that is now a lumber yard--is designated for light manufacturing uses. In the aftermath of the commission's decision, Grace said he is considering the possibility of constructing a warehouse for storage of import goods that are shipped through the nearby Port of Los Angeles. He has until late November to file an appeal.
But Grace said he remains surprised by community reaction to his proposal, which he has maintained would provide the area with a high-quality development that could eventually spur further improvement in Wilmington.
"Five years ago I did this zone-change thing in Wilmington, and nobody showed up," he said. "There's a big difference, and I think they have some very good complaints . . . but if they stop (their activism) after my project, it will all be for naught. The schools are still overcrowded; the streets are still a mess; traffic is still a problem."
Members of the homeowner group agreed. In the wake of their victory, group members formed several committees to begin examining such issues as school overcrowding, community beautification, traffic and police protection.
Request for Moratorium
The group also plans to request this week that Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores impose a moratorium on any new development in Wilmington, pending the adoption of a new community plan. About 40 apartment developments, most of them high-density, have been planned or constructed in Wilmington during the last year, the group said.
While the homeowners maintain that such projects strain already minimal services in Wilmington, they also point out that the new developments are going up as a city-appointed citizens' group is looking into ways to revise Wilmington's community plan--a factor also contributing to planning officials' rejection of the 189-unit apartment proposal. Revision of the plan could lead to widespread zoning changes after the plan is officially drafted sometime next spring.
"In the past, Flores has said there won't be a moratorium until the community plan is in the final stages," said Mendoza, the homeowners' president. "But the final stages could be six months or a year away. That's too long. These projects are going up right now.