HERMOSA BEACH — As negotiators in Manhattan Beach concluded a deal that will preserve as parkland about 90% of the Santa Fe Railway right of way in that city, a formal request arrived at Hermosa Beach City Hall asking for massive residential and commercial development of the right of way here.
Santa Fe officials last week delivered an application for zoning changes and a series of maps and renderings that would transform the 19-acre right of way into a corridor of houses, apartments, condominiums and commercial buildings.
The Santa Fe proposal would leave as open space the right of way between the city's northern border and a property line just south of Gould Avenue as well as pockets at 24th Street and between 4th and 5th streets.
But the proposal would allow 870,000 square feet of development on the rest of the right of way, including commercial development between 8th and 17th streets and between the city's southern border and 2nd Street.
Besides the commercial zoning, the application proposes that the corridor's open-space designation be changed to single-family residential between 16th Street and just south of Gould Avenue, except for a tiny strip at 24th Street; two-family residential between 8th and 5th streets, and multiple-family residential between 16th and 17th streets and between 4th and 2nd streets.
Brian J. Weber, director of development for the railroad's realty division, characterized the proposed changes in the application as "responsive to market conditions" and in line with zoning of adjacent properties.
"Current OS (open space) zoning and permitted uses under this zoning classification permits a restrictive and limited range of uses, many of which have questionable economic viability," Weber wrote on the application in explaining why the railroad wants the zone changes. "Because of site development requirements of the permitted use and the constraints of the site, many (of the permitted uses) cannot be realistically implemented."
Michael Schubach, director of planning for the city, said the Santa Fe application comes as no surprise. Railroad officials pledged last December to develop the right of way after they dropped a $15-million lawsuit against the city over the city's decision to zone the property as open space.
Santa Fe has argued that the open-space designation, approved by the City Council in August, 1982, effectively blocks the railroad from developing the strip, creating an inverse condemnation of the property. The railroad, however, dropped the suit just weeks before the case was scheduled to go to trial.
Benjamin Salvaty, a Santa Fe attorney who handled the lawsuit, said at the time that the railroad had decided that Santa Fe and the city could reach an agreement on the property by "going through the public hearing process."
Schubach said the application filed last week will act a starting point for a new round of discussions between the railroad and the city. He said the proposed zoning changes will require public hearings by both the Planning Commission and City Council.