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Builders React to Moratorium Talk With 'Land Rush'

November 28, 1985|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

HAWTHORNE — A deluge of requests for building permits flooded City Hall this week after the Planning Commission, in a little-publicized action that was opposed by the city administration, voted 4 to 1 on Nov. 20 to recommend a moratorium on multi-unit residential development.

The influx brings already record development in Hawthorne to a new high, giving the city its first year with more than $100 million in construction permits.

"It sounds to me like the Planning Commission created a panic with their recommendations," said Councilman Chuck Bookhammer.

"A land rush," commented Councilman Steve Andersen.

"Monday was a mess," said Maxine Groseth, the city employee who processes permits and files the rolled-up blueprints that accompany permit applications. "You ever stack cordwood? That is what we did."

Took No Chances

Developers took no chances that the City Council might approve a moratorium--despite the fact that the Planning Commission recommendation was not on the council agenda for the Monday evening meeting.

Monday was the heaviest single day for building permits since the day before a moratorium took effect in the early 1970s, Groseth said. Developers took out permits Monday for 309 residential units valued at construction costs of $14.4 million. She did not know the previous single-day record.

Permit totals for 1985 through Tuesday were 1,636 residential units with construction costs estimated at $103.4 million. Between the Planning Commission vote and Tuesday, $52,000 in city permit fees were collected. In 1984, permits for 580 units were issued with costs of $44.7 million.

Planning officials' reaction to the record permit activity was mixed.

"Oh, my God! That is enough to make you sick. Isn't that awful?" said Planning Commission Chairwoman Barbara Workman, who voted for the moratorium recommendation.

But Planning Director Jim Marquez, who opposed the moratorium in Planning Commission discussions, said he was pleased about the record figures: "I like to hear that. You want your city to grow."

Took Out Permit

Marquez himself took out a permit on Monday for a 15-unit apartment. City Manager Kenneth Jue said it is "not necessarily" a conflict of interest for the city's planning director to also be a developer in the city. Jue questions the need for a moratorium.

Bookhammer, another opponent of a moratorium, warned that the sudden burst of permit activity might trigger a backlash.

"If the builders don't read between the lines and they continue to put in these plans, they may just force us into a moratorium," he said.

Torrance developer Siraj Hassanally took the lead in permits filed through Monday after the Planning Commission decision.

On Friday and Monday, Hassanally took out permits for three buildings in the Moneta Gardens area with a total of 83 units and construction costs of $4 million. He said he had already been planning these apartment buildings, his first in Hawthorne, when he heard from his architect that Hawthorne officials were considering a moratorium.

"I rushed to get it in," he said. "The timing, of course, was because of the rumor that there would be a moratorium."

Some Did Not Know

But some who filed for a permit on Monday said they did not know of the Planning Commission recommendation.

"I was unaware of anything like that," said developer Rein O. Kuhr.

Still, Kuhr did notice unusual activity as he took out a permit for a 49-unit apartment building in the 14100 block of Lemoli Avenue in the Moneta Gardens area.

"I was wondering. There were quite a few people around the building department," he said.

Kuhr said he is opposed to a moratorium. "I don't see where the City Council would have any business unilaterally coming in with a moratorium in the first place. . . . You don't let a bunch of people build and then all of a sudden say, 'This is too much.' "

The Planning Commission voted for the moratorium recommendation at a Nov. 20. meeting that lasted past midnight, prolonged partly by complaints from a number of residents of Roselle Avenue who expressed concerned that high-density development could drive away people living in single-family homes.

Planning Commissioner Dr. William Lee, a chiropractor and developer, made the motion that the commission recommend City Council approval of a moratorium on multi-unit residential building. Lee is a member of Planning Commission committees that are studying land use citywide and residential land use in the Moneta Gardens area--subjects that are given high priority by a City Council that for months has faced residents irate about development in their neighborhoods.

Explain Why Needed

Commissioner Frederick Morgan, who eventually voted against the recommendation, challenged Lee to explain why a moratorium was needed.

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