No condominiums have ever been built on lots zoned R-1 in Hawthorne, but the City Council this week imposed an "emergency" moratorium on such construction while it reconsiders the ordinance that allows it.
The matter was not on the council's agenda and came up when Councilman David York asked City Manager R. Kenneth Jue to put discussion of the zoning ordinance on the council's April 13 agenda.
York wondered aloud if there might be a rush on condominium building permits similar to one for apartment buildings that occurred in November, 1985, after the Planning Commission recommended a moratorium on multi-unit residential development.
In one day that year, after word of the Planning Commission's recommendation spread, developers took out permits for 309 residential units valued at $14.4 million.
Jue told the council this week that in the past 10 years there have not been any requests to build condominiums on R-1 lots, and that he is not aware of anyone planning to make such a request.
Still, York and Councilman Charles Bookhammer said they would prefer to have a moratorium, and said the potential rush on building permits met the need criteria of the state Brown Act for the council to act on items not listed on its agenda.
As of Jan. 1, city councils are forbidden under state law to act on items not listed on the agenda except in an emergency--the law cites work stoppages or natural disasters as examples--or when two-thirds of the members agree that "the need to take action arose subsequent to the agenda being posted."
The council, with Councilman G. Steven Andersen absent, voted unanimously to discuss the moratorium. The council then voted 3 to 1, with Councilwoman Ginny Lambert dissenting, to impose it.
York did not explain at the meeting why he wants the council to discuss the ordinance and could not be reached later to elaborate.
Last year, the Planning Commission updated the city's building code, including condominium standards. It was then discovered that although most R-1 lots are for single-family homes, condominiums were allowed on some larger lots. It was also discovered that on certain R-1 lots, a two-story single-family house could be built in front and a single-story duplex in the back of the property.
The Planning Commission had recommended that condominiums be continued--and even encouraged--on the larger R-1 lots because it could reduce density rather than increase it. In January, Anderson persuaded the council to go along with the recommendation, noting that two R-1 lots combined, only four condominium units could be built under the ordinance.
Andersen on Tuesday said the moratorium came as a surprise.
"I don't know why they did it," he said. "I haven't talked to anyone so I can't tell you anything."
Most of the larger R-1 lots are in the Holly Glen and Burleigh Tract areas, where residents have expressed fears of condominium intrusion.
But Ray Sulser, a developer and former planning commissioner, said the high cost of land in those areas prohibits condominiums. He said single-family lots there average more than $150,000, bringing the land cost for a four-unit condominium to at least $300,000.
"It's not feasible," Sulser said. "There are no lots that you can afford to buy and tear down just to build four condos."