NORWALK — Plans for a $60-million hotel complex near the city's Civic Center were dealt a setback last week after the Planning Commission voted to deny various planning approvals for the project, including a request to allow an apartment complex.
The commission--in denying without prejudice a conditional use permit, lot division, text amendment and precise development plan--cited concerns about parking and the scope of an apartment complex planned on the 20-acre site at Norwalk Boulevard and Civic Center Drive, formerly the Wright Elementary School site.
The various approvals--as well as an agreement with the Redevelopment Agency--are necessary before the project can begin, city officials said. Developers are proposing an eight-story hotel, an office building, a retail center with a movie theater and a 232-unit apartment complex.
The commission did approve a general plan amendment and zone change to allow a triangular parcel south of the school site to become part of the project, which would be the largest in the city when completed.
Recommendations by the advisory body will be sent to the council Sept. 22 for its consideration, said Kurt Anderson, assistant planning director. The council could concur with the commission or overturn its recommendation and approve the changes for the project.
The Planning Commission's action was not "a final death blow to the project," Anderson said. But most developers, he said, would like to have their projects forwarded to the council with a favorable recommendation.
The developer has two options: to either go back to the Planning Commission with revised plans or have the recommendation come to the council as is, Anderson said.
Dennis Desnoo, a spokesman for the developer, London Pacific Investments, said company officials have not discussed what they will do, but he expressed confidence in the project.
"We more or less expected it to happen," Desnoo said, in reference to the commission's action. But because the action was without prejudice--which allows the developer to refile revised plans right away, without the usual waiting period of one year--it indicated that the project "is close," Desnoo said.
"While it's never nice to be denied before anybody, we are over the major hurdles and at the tail end of negotiations," he said.
The Redondo Beach-based company originally planned to have the ground breaking in December, but may now move it to early 1987. The company entered into escrow with the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District to buy the property for $9.1 million.
"If everything fell into place beautifully, it may be three months away," Desnoo said.
The developer had already received conceptual approval for the project from both the Planning Commission and the City Council, but last week was the first time the company had submitted specific plans.
The project would be divided into two sections--commercial and residential. The hotel would have a restaurant and convention space. The apartment complex would have a recreation room, pool, and spa.
Commissioner Ralph Pontius said that while a "$60-million project in Norwalk is nothing to laugh at," he stressed that the commission could not close its "eyes to reality" and ignore certain aspects of the development.
"The commercial development does not suit me," Pontius said, referring to the small strip of commercial shops which would line the outside of the office building. The parking for both the residential and commercial sectors "is not adequate."
Two parking spaces per unit, or 464 spaces, are required. The developer has proposed building 439 spaces, saying overflow parking will be provided in the commercial area.
Commissioner Carlos Fuentes said he would like to see larger units, more amenities and bigger balconies in the apartment complex.
"I don't think the complex as proposed is in keeping with what I'd like to see there," Fuentes said. "It should be the best residential zone we have in the city."
Two residents--one of whom testified at the hearing--objected to the project because of increased traffic on surrounding streets.
Desnoo said he is confident that the "relatively minor concerns" can be worked out, especially since the hotel is the cornerstone of the project.
"The community, political leadership and business community all want to see this project happen," Desnoo said.