RANCHO PALOS VERDES — Two years ago the bitterest battle in city history was waged over a plan to build 72 condominiums on 6.1 hilly acres next to the seaside Golden Cove shopping center at the foot of Hawthorne Boulevard.
City Council hearings turned into shouting matches as residents denounced the development's 12-unit-per-acre density and demanded that the land, then zoned for commercial use, be held for possible expansion of the shopping center.
The future of the Golden Cove area became the key issue in the 1983 council election. Candidates John McTaggart and Melvin Hughes, who opposed a zone change to residential, were elected. The council, voting 4-1, eventually approved residential use of the property but slashed density to eight town houses per acre. Hughes said he reluctantly supported the change to residential use after a consultant reported that there would not be a need for center expansion and there would be a need for homes. McTaggart voted against it.
Now, a revamped proposal--for 49 town house units--will be taken up Tuesday by the Planning Commission. Although veterans of the battle expect opposition, most think that the fight over Golden Cove has cooled.
"The density is what got everybody upset, and we were successful in getting densities decreased," said Franklyn C. Weiss, president of the Council of Homeowners' Assns., which has been the principal opponent of the residential development. "I can't believe the opposition will be as strong as before."
Weiss, who made Golden Cove an issue when he ran unsuccessfully for the council in 1985, said he still thinks the property should be commercial. "It is the only place the shopping center can expand," he said.
City Councilwoman Jacki Bacharach said Golden Cove will continue to make waves in the city because those who opposed the council decision to permit homes are still against the idea.
Decision 'Has Been Made'
"As far as I'm concerned, that decision is not even open to question any more," said Bacharach. "It has been made." She said the only issue is the quality of the development, predicting that if it meets city requirements, it will be approved by the council.
Orange County developer Howard Adler, who said he and his partners devised their project four years ago, said he thinks the battle ended more than a year ago when the council decided on land use and density. "We have been working out what we want under city guidelines," he said.
City planner Steve Rubin said the new proposal meets density standards of eight units to the acre and satisfies a council requirement that 12 units be "affordable," based on the Rancho Palos Verdes median income of $55,300. Adler said these units would be priced at about $150,000, while the remainder of the two- and three-bedroom town houses would sell for between $250,000 and $325,000.
City officials say that past battles aside, the new development proposal raises issues of its own, including stability of the land--which will be graded extensively--and the routing of traffic in the development.
"The commission will look at geology, which is of paramount importance," said Peter K. Von Hagen, chairman of the Planning Commission.
"We have satisfied ourselves that the soil can support the development," said Adler. "We have spent time and money studying this."
Rubin said the city engineer is satisfied that the land is stable. However, he said he has concerns about traffic circulation. "They have one entrance, from Hawthorne, and there is no left turn out" on Hawthorne because it would create a traffic hazard, Rubin said. "We're looking for another entrance."
A second road across land owned by St. Paul's Lutheran Church, which abuts the development on the west, is planned to connect to Palos Verdes Drive West, but Adler said it would be used only in emergencies under an agreement with the church. The road would have a locked gate which only the county sheriff and fire officials could open.
"I don't object to another entrance, if we can find it," Adler said.
Problem for Center?
Councilman Hughes said he is concerned that the development will hamper delivery access to the shopping center. "Circulation is poor behind the stores," he said. "There is an alleyway, but it's narrow."
He said his vote on the project "will depend on how the Planning Commission sees it."
Rubin said he wants to eliminate the gabled roof lines and replace them with sloping roofs that are more parallel with the sloping terrain.
The acreage where the town houses would be built was designated for commercial use in the city's general plan, which was put together after Rancho Palos Verdes was incorporated in 1973.
During the stormy meetings over the first condominium plan, critics argued that growth in the coastal area could warrant expansion of the Golden Cove shopping center, which would be impossible if the condominiums were built.