It isn't often that legal wrangling over development of land ends with a city issuing a resolution commending the developers, but that's what has happened with Torrance's Madrona Marsh, just east of Del Amo Fashion Center.
Under an agreement signed by the city, developers Ray Watt, Shurl Curci, Guilford Glazer and Santa Fe Land Improvement Co., and an environmental group called Friends of Madrona Marsh, the developers donated to the city 34.5 acres of marsh lands valued at $20 million--the largest gift of land ever made to Torrance.
A second, 8.5-acre marsh-lands parcel was sold to Torrance for a below-market price of $1.5 million.
The city guaranteed that the land--most of which is bounded by Sepulveda Boulevard on the south, Toledo Street on the north, Madrona Avenue on the west and Maple Avenue on the east--will be preserved forever as a nature preserve.
Friends of Madrona Marsh President Georgean Griswold--calling the agreement a "realization of our dreams"--said that the marsh is a seasonal wetlands used by about 140 species of migratory birds, as well as frogs, snakes and small animals.
The environmental group will work with Torrance to make the preserve safe for public use, lay out nature trails and raise funds for a nature study building, she added.
The land dedication paved the way for the City Council's unanimous approval of South Bayport, a Watt Homes development of 146 zero lot-line three- and four-bedroom detached houses. The first phase of 36 houses, priced from $259,000 to $299,000, goes on sale this weekend, with occupancy scheduled for early next summer.
Designed by Donald Simmons, the 2,200-to-2,500-square-foot houses, at Maple Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard in Park Del Amo, have two stories and New England-style architecture with wood siding and shingles.
The South Bayport recreational complex will feature a heated, free-form pool, two spas, a clubhouse, picnic areas and open space, according to Larry Schmidt, president of Watt Homes. Monthly homeowner association dues will be about $75, he said.
In addition to the resolution commending the developers for their "tremendous gift" to Torrance, the City Council adopted a second resolution praising the Friends of Madrona Marsh for its work in "preserving a community treasure."
Torrance Mayor Katy Geissert said that the resolution of the marsh-lands issue brings a happy ending to a "major drama in the history of the city" that began 15 years ago.
Along with the South Bayport community, the council approved a second new Park Del Amo project with 508 town houses. Grading is under way, with sales expected to begin early next year, according to Schmidt.
The master-planned Park Del Amo residential and commercial center originally included 182 acres owned by Santa Fe Land Improvement Co. and Torrance Investment Co., a partnership formed in 1980 by Watt, Curci and Glazer.
Watt built 257 town houses for Torrance Investment Co. and the partnership completed two three-story office buildings with a total of 211,000 square feet. In addition, Watt is building a 110-unit town house project on a 5.5-acre site purchased from the partnership.
Watt Homes bought the remaining 56 acres of residential land in Park Del Amo from Torrance Investment Co. and sold its interest in the partnership to the two other partners.
Last spring, a deadlock developed over the marsh. The developers wanted assurance that no development would ever take place on the land, and the city wanted to take title with no restrictions.
The city considered an earlier dedication of the land to be a "conservation easement" rather than a true dedication, Geissert said.
"The language was very restrictive and was unacceptable to the City of Torrance," she added.
Lawsuits were filed by the city, the environmental group and the developers and construction activity ceased.
Ray Watt is credited by Geissert for "opening the door to negotiations between the city and developers and getting things back on track when discussions bogged down."
"From the time I was elected mayor last March until we resolved the issue, Ray intervened whenever an impasse developed," she explained. "I don't know exactly what he did, but I know it cost him money to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of all the parties involved. We felt the resolutions were a good way to soothe feelings and recognize the contributions of the developers and the Friends of Madrona Marsh."