CARSON — After a storm of community protest over a proposed 352-unit apartment complex in north Carson, the City Council this week scrapped plans for what would have been one of the city's largest and most luxurious residential developments.
In a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Vera Robles DeWitt opposed, the City Council on Monday overturned the Carson Planning Commission's decision to approve permits needed to construct the sprawling apartment development. The council action came in response to an appeal filed on Dec. 17 by Councilwoman Sylvia Muise and Councilman Thomas Mills.
The apartment complex, where units were to rent for $700 to $900 a month, would have stretched over 17.4 acres just southeast of California State University, Dominguez Hills. Proposed by Quail Contractors, it was to include three swimming pools, three tennis courts and extensive landscaping.
But residents of north Carson, who crowded City Council chambers during the three-hour public hearing on Monday, voiced fears that the apartment complex would aggravate such neighborhood problems as crime, traffic congestion, noise and inadequate parking. They asserted that the project--which complied with the city's zoning for the property--was incompatible with their neighborhood of single-family homes.
"North Carson is fragile and in danger of going down," said resident Gary Colboth. "It's not too much unlike north Compton and Willowbrook. . . . This is a dense project--too dense. We're going to have a mess if we're not careful."
Resident April Gipson asserted that crime is already a problem. "I can't even put up Christmas decorations without them being stolen. . . . Why bring in more problems when they (law enforcement) can't handle what they've got?"
Echoing many of the residents' concerns, the council denied permits for the project and rejected its 5-year-old environmental impact report, which members described as obsolete.
During the deliberations, some council members suggested a reduction in the number of units permitted on the property, but no action was taken on that issue.
"I think the most important thing we have to realize is that this is an intrusion of rental units into a single-family neighborhood," Muise said during a lengthy explanation of her appeal of the planning commission's decision. "I think this is going to wreak havoc in the neighborhood."
Like residents and some council members, Muise questioned the developer's belief that the apartments would be occupied by single adults and couples. "The only way you're going to be able to do that (find tenants to pay $700 to $900 a month for rent) is by packing 8 and 10 into a unit," she said.
Residents and officials also voiced concern about the project's location in the Compton Unified School District, which they said would probably prompt many tenants to try to enroll their children in Carson-area schools--even though Compton schools would receive property tax revenue from the development. Most of Carson is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
But the developer of the project and an official from California State University, Dominguez Hills, maintained that apartments are needed in Carson. They also disputed charges that the project would foster neighborhood decline.
"It is presently difficult, if not impossible, to find available housing in the area," said Margaret Coda-Messerle, university director of facilities planning. She said that the school's faculty, staff and students would be interested in renting many of the units.
Need for Apartments
"The project is desperately needed in the city of Carson; the vacancy rates in the area indicate a crying need for some apartments," agreed developer Dennis A. Martin, president of Quail Contractors. "It will provide a degree of excellence not currently available to those who prefer to rent their homes. This project will provide job opportunities, economic benefits . . . and aesthetic improvements."
Martin also pointed out that four of the five council members--all but DeWitt, who was not in an elected or appointed office at the time--had supported the 1981 decision to rezone the vacant property to allow 25 units per acre. The previous zoning permitted light manufacturing uses.
In an interview after the hearing, Martin said he may consider submitting a proposal to build condominiums on the property. In addition, Martin said he believes the council's decision to reject the apartment project was politically motivated. Muise and Mills, who appealed the planning commission decision, are up for reelection in April.
"There's no question in my mind that this is tied to the campaign," Martin said. "I think council members Muise and Mills think it's critical to their reelection to oppose this project because of the attitude of the surrounding neighborhood."
Unrelated to Campaign
Muise said the appeal is unrelated to the campaign, and Mills could not be reached for comment.
"The record will reflect that I appeal the decisions of the Planning Commission when I feel the Planning Commission has not made a wise decision in addressing issues of development in Carson," said Muise, who acknowledged her change of heart since she voted to approve the property's zone change in 1981, when she was a planning commissioner.