NORWALK — The City Council has put the brakes on apartment development in much of the city after several resident groups complained that new projects would add to traffic and parking problems already plaguing their neighborhoods.
At a time when the Southeast area's largest city is on a development roll, the council has passed an emergency moratorium on construction of multiple-family dwellings with rental apartments as the primary target. Projects already approved by the city or new ones proposed for a redevelopment corridor along Firestone Boulevard are exempt from the building ban.
By a 4-1 vote, council members adopted the moratorium June 8, saying it will give Norwalk planners a chance to evaluate the effect of nearly two years of rapid-fire apartment and condominium construction and establish new density controls on future projects. Since the summer of 1985, 18 multifamily housing projects with 726 units have come before the city, Planning Director Don Rouly said. All but two have been approved.
The citywide moratorium was borne out of a neighborhood flap over a proposed two-story, 20-unit complex in the 11100 block of Barnwall Street. Surrounding homeowners said the project was not compatible with nearby single-family homes and would lead to more traffic and parking problems in the area.
Matters are complicated by an inconsistency between the general plan and city zoning regulations for the neighborhood. The general plan for that area calls for low-density residential housing, but zoning laws also allow high-density projects like apartments. To buy time to review both the general plan and city zoning guidelines, the council--at the urging of the Planning Commission--banned in late April all apartment building in an eight-block area in the city's southwest corner.
When city officials discovered similar zoning inconsistencies in other Norwalk neighborhoods, the council extended the moratorium to the entire city.
Councilman Robert E. (Bob) White was the lone moratorium opponent, saying it would discourage developers from building in the city. "To throw a rope around the whole city . . . I think it would be a mistake," he said.
But Councilman Luigi A. Vernola, a planning commissioner until last month when he was appointed to fill a council vacancy, said: "It's time we slow things down. . . ." Concerned that Norwalk could lose its image as a bedroom community of single-family homes, Vernola said the city must be careful not to turn neighborhoods into "rows of apartment complexes that resemble concrete jungles."
Vernola cast the key vote putting the moratorium in place. In early May, the council defeated the building ban, with White and former Councilman Cecil N. Green opposing it. Under city law, four votes were needed to adopt the moratorium. It was not until Vernola replaced Green, who was elected to the state Senate, that there was enough support for the measure.
The 45-day emergency moratorium will be in effect until mid-July when the council can extend it, by law, for 10 months. An extension is expected because Rouly said it will take several months to completely review the general plan and make recommendations on apartment development in the city.
City officials said there are basically two reasons for the rush of interest to build in Norwalk. One is the city's redevelopment push, which began three years ago and has attracted $165 million in new building to the city. "Norwalk is a city on the move and a lot of people want to capitalize on that," Planning Commissioner Ralph Pontius said.
Some developers also believe that the city is ideally situated for future residential and commercial growth because it sits at the eastern end of the partially completed Century Freeway, a 17.3-mile highway that will provide a more direct route from Norwalk and other Southeast cities to central and west Los Angeles.
Demand for housing is already on the rise, city officials said. In 1980, about 85,280 people lived in the city. But city projections call for that figure to top 90,000, a 5.5% increase, by the end of the decade.
Because there is very little undeveloped land left in the city, Rouly said there has been a trend in recent years for older homes to be torn down and replaced with apartments.
That is exactly what Don Collins proposed doing with two single-family houses he owns on Barnwall Street near Crossdale Avenue. Collins, owner of a refrigeration and air-conditioning business in Norwalk, wants to raze the residences and erect a two-story, 20-unit apartment building on the site.
When nearby homeowners got wind of the proposal, they submitted petitions with 125 names opposing it. John Gutierrez, who has lived in his three-bedroom home across from Collins' property since 1963, said if the project is approved it could open the door for more apartment construction on Barnwall. He said neighbors worry that Barnwall could wind up looking like Ferina Street.