HERMOSA BEACH — In a dramatic move intended to prevent construction of thousands of apartments and condominiums, the City Council this week approved far-reaching density reductions in two-family and multifamily residential zones.
The reductions, which are expected to take effect in March, come after years of complaints from residents in the tiny beach community that new apartments and condominiums have caused massive parking problems, traffic congestion and overcrowding in neighborhoods. More than 18,000 residents live in the 1.3-square-mile city, making it by far the most densely populated beach city in the South Bay.
The reductions are the most extensive changes in the residential zoning code since the early 1970s and could affect more than half of the estimated 6,000 residential lots in the city, city officials said Wednesday. Among other changes, they cut by 28% the number of apartments allowed per acre on lots zoned for multifamily dwellings.
"How can we have more people, when we don't have room for what we've got?" asked Gertrude Urhausen, a 7th Street resident who urged the council to approve the reductions at a public hearing Tuesday night.
But while most of the dozen or so residents who spoke at the hearing favored the reductions, the zoning changes were vehemently opposed by several builders, a real estate broker and Mayor Jack Wood, himself a developer.
Wood said he favors lowering residential density in the city but argued that the reductions approved by the council are so extensive that they should have been put off until affected property owners could be notified individually by the city.
Following state law, the city advertised the pending changes in the Easy Reader, a local weekly, but did not need to notify each property owner, City Clerk Kathleen Reviczky said.
"There are a certain amount of people caught in the pipeline," said Wood, referring to people who may have purchased property in Hermosa Beach intending to build apartments or condominiums. "They should be told. They should have the opportunity to come down and express themselves."
Wood's suggestion, however, was rejected by his fellow councilmen, with the council voting 4 to 1 in favor of five motions required to approve the density reductions.
Property owners still have two more occasions to address the council on the reductions. The votes Tuesday night authorized the city staff to prepare amendments to the zoning code, but the actual amendments, in the form of ordinances, must be introduced at the council's next meeting on Jan. 28. They then must go through a second reading on Feb. 11. Ordinances become law 30 days after the second reading.
Until the ordinances take effect, property owners can seek building permits under the current zoning code.
The density reductions primarily affect lots that are zoned R-2 (two-family) and R-3 (multiple family) but also include lots zoned R-P (residential-professional) and R-2B (limited multiple family).
None of the reductions affect existing buildings or homes--they apply only to future development.
Under the reductions, the density changes are as follows:
- In multiple-family residential and residential-professional zones, 33 condominiums or apartments will be allowed per acre. Currently, 46 apartments or 40 condominiums are allowed.
- In two-family residential and limited-multiple-family zones, a maximum of two apartments or condominiums will be allowed per lot, provided the lot is at least 3,500 square feet. Currently, an unlimited number of condominiums are allowed on these lots, provided the lot is at least 3,500 square feet and there is at least 1,742 square feet per unit. A maximum of two apartments currently are allowed per lot if the lot is 2,400 square feet or larger.
City officials said they did not know how many lots in the city will be affected by the changes. Planning Director Michael Schubach, who drafted the density reduction proposals approved by the council, estimated that about 3,500 lots are zoned R-2, R-2B, R-3 or R-P.
The impact of the density reduction "depends on what time in the future people tear down their houses and rebuild," Schubach said. "It was intended to have an impact, and that means it can't be limited to just a few parcels."
Schubach and building director William Grove said the most significant aspect of the changes from a planning perspective is that they bring the city's zoning code into compliance with its general plan, which was approved by the council in 1979. Reductions in density were included in the general plan, but they were never translated by the council into actual zoning requirements.
"The reason the changes are so dramatic is that in past actions the council has only addressed the general plan and never resolved the inconsistency between the general plan and the zoning code," Grove said. "Because of that, apartments continued to be built."
The last major change in density to the zoning code occurred in 1972 when the City Council reduced the allowable number of units per acre for apartments to 46 from 72 and for condominiums to 40 from 72, Grove said.
Former Mayor Hank Doerfling, who served on the council from 1972 to 1980, said the action Tuesday night follows in the spirit of the density reduction approved by his council 14 years earlier.
"There is more public support from a wide base for lower density than there ever has been in the past," Doerfling said in an interview Wednesday. "The best way to cut down on density is to cut down on development potential. And that is what has been done."