Brushing aside fears that the center of Torrance will soon look like the Westside's high-rise Century City, the City Council approved a major development near the Del Amo mall that city planners acknowledge will create traffic jams.
The move intensifies a trend toward increased density and urbanization in the commercial sprawl surrounding the mall that many have dubbed the downtown of the South Bay.
The project will bring a 118-foot-tall building with office space for 1,300 workers and a multistory parking garage with room for 1,000 cars within 300 feet of the intersection of Torrance and Hawthorne boulevards--one of the South Bay's busiest crossings.
The major tenant in the building will be Computax Inc., a computerized tax-processing firm with operations now scattered among several locations in the South Bay.
The office building and parking garage, which will be built on a 7.3-acre parcel on the east side of Hawthorne Boulevard just south of Torrance Boulevard, represent the first phase of plans to create a corporate campus west and north of the Torrance Marriott hotel on land now overgrown with weeds.
Specific proposals for development of succeeding phases on a nine-acre lot between the hotel and Torrance Boulevard were not discussed at Tuesday's meeting, but council members, voicing concerns about traffic and density, insisted on scaling down the remainder of the project.
The council decided to impose an overall limit on floor space of 80% of the lot area, which would reduce plans for the combined project by 22%--from the originally proposed 704,000 square feet of floor space to 552,000 square feet.
In the first phase approved this week, the proposed floor space is 302,000 square feet (94% of the lot area), so only 250,000 square feet (64% of the lot area) will be allowed on the remaining parcel instead of the previously planned 402,000 square feet.
To ease expected traffic congestion, an additional lane will be added to Torrance Boulevard eastbound between Hawthorne Boulevard and Madrona Avenue and an additional lane will be added to Hawthorne Boulevard northbound between Fashion Way and Torrance Boulevard.
In January, James A. Jones, president of the Torrance Co., which manages the Del Amo mall, said he was worried that traffic generated by the project would discourage shoppers from using the mall, particularly during the Christmas shopping season when mall stores do 30% to 40% of their annual business. Jones also said that mall parking might be used up by Computax employees who want to avoid the inconvenience of the parking garage.
On Tuesday, Jones dropped his opposition to the project after Charles (Duke) Runnels, vice president of Oxford Properties Inc., the project's developer, agreed to construct additional driveways and roads to the office building and made concessions on use of the parking garage.
Marriott hotel officials, also concerned earlier about traffic, also dropped their opposition to the project.
In January, Jones had unsuccessfully pleaded with the council to wait a week before approving an environmental impact report until the results of a privately commissioned traffic study could be presented to the council. Jones had argued then that the environmental impact report submitted by the developer did not count traffic during the holiday rush season.
The report, which was turned in March 13 with apologies for its tardiness, asserted that mall business could be hurt unless another lane is added to Fashion Way.
In a memo to the council, Torrance Transportation Director Arthur T. Horkay disputed the mall's traffic analysis, saying that its assumption that the city would allow the mall to add 400,000 square feet of retail sales space on the north end is not warranted. "A 15% increase in the (size of the mall) is by no means a foregone conclusion," he said.
Sees Added Congestion
Nevertheless, Horkay added that the Oxford project would cause additional traffic congestion and that little could be done about it because the existing street network has little room left for expansion.
"Therefore it is necessary to limit the size or type of development within the commercial core unless the city is willing to accept" more congestion, he said.
The environmental impact report said projections of normal traffic growth, coupled with what the project generates, would lead to long delays during afternoon peak hours at the intersections of Hawthorne Boulevard with Torrance Boulevard, Del Amo Circle and Carson Street, as well as at the intersections of Torrance Boulevard with Anza Avenue and Madrona Avenue.
At the meeting, council member Bill Applegate was the only one to oppose the project.
"It is too much building on too small a parcel," he said. "We are creating a series of structures in this city that will liken ourselves to Century City. We must remember this is Torrance."
Council member Dee Hardison supported the project, but agreed with Applegate: "Idealistically, I would have liked to see something smaller there."