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400-Unit Housing Project Faces Split Council, Hostile Neighbors Near Cal State

July 12, 1987|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

A proposal for a 400-unit low-rise development near California State University, Dominguez Hills, which includes 150 units of subsidized housing for seniors, has become a political football in Carson.

"Basically you have a lot of political heat on it," said City Administrator Dick Gunnarson.

The homes of three council members were picketed July 1 by chanting, sign-carrying opponents of the project, and a large crowd is expected at City Hall Monday when the council will hear the developer's appeal of a Planning Commission decision to lower the number of units in the project and deny a variance.

The controversy includes contentions by opponents that the project will bring crime, traffic and noise to an area of single-family homes and assertions by the developer that Carson needs more housing in general and more subsidized housing for seniors in particular. The project has also become entangled in the factional warfare on the council.

Calas Blames Muise

In an interview, Mayor Kay Calas said she accused Councilwoman Sylvia Muise of instigating the July 1 demonstrations at her home and the residences of her council allies, Mayor Pro Tem Vera Robles DeWitt and Michael Mitoma--all of whom face reelection next year. Members of the other council faction, Muise and Tom Mills, were not picketed.

Calas said that in one heated discussion she told Muise, "Call off your dogs," but that Muise denied having anything to do with the picketing.

Muise confirmed that Calas had been upset about the pickets and asked if she knew anything about them, but added that she did not recall Calas expressing herself so colorfully. "I was not aware of it" at time, she said, referring to the picketing.

April Gipson, a neighborhood activist who organized the demonstrators, also said Muise had not been behind the picketing.

The project site is a rectangular 17.4-acre tract on the north side of University Drive just east of Avalon Boulevard. Now vacant, it is used as an unofficial park by joggers, kite-fliers, model airplane enthusiasts and Boy Scouts, who have held jamborees there. It is bordered by Cal State on the north and east and by single-family homes on the west and south.

High-Density Zoning

A key factor in the controversy is the land's current zoning for 25 units per acre, according to Community Planner Conrad Guzkowski. Neighbors have objected to high-density development on the site, but Guzkowski said the parcel is attractive to developers because it is one of the largest undeveloped tracts zoned for high-density residential development in the South Bay.

On Jan. 27, 1981, the Planning Commission voted 5 to 1, with one abstention and one member absent, to change the parcel's zoning from commercial to residential use and set the maximum density at 25 units per acre. The commission also accepted an environmental impact report that concluded there would be no negative impact on schools, traffic or crime from a 332-unit condominium project proposed for the site. Muise, who was then a member of the commission, voted to change the zoning and accept the report.

Muise, who has since changed her mind about the need for high-density development, said, "I like to think I'm a little wiser now . . . maybe we need to look at the zoning again."

City standards for condominiums were later changed, and that project was rejected by the commission in December, 1984.

The current developer, Dennis Martin, president of Quail Contractors Inc., applied to build a 360-unit apartment and condo complex in July, 1985. Martin said that he entered an escrow agreement to purchase the property from Shearson American Express Inc. on Jan. 1, 1985, and has been paying $26,000 a month ever since to extend escrow.

Commission OKd Project

Martin's application included requests for variances to provide carports instead of garages and to provide less than the required amount of parking. He later reduced the number of units from 360 to 352 and agreed to provide the required number of parking spaces and garages. The Planning Commission approved the project with these modifications on Dec. 10, 1985.

On Feb. 3, 1986, at a meeting packed with neighborhood opponents, the council rejected the project in a 4-1 vote on an appeal of the Planning Commission approval. Muise, Mills, Calas and then-Councilman Walter J. (Jake) Egan voted against the project. DeWitt voted for it.

After the vote, Martin said, he went to Muise, who was then the mayor, and asked what the community wanted. He said she told him the city needs senior housing.

Martin redesigned the project, offering to sell the city 4.6 acres for senior housing at his acquisition cost, which he estimated between $1.1 million and $1.2 million. His current proposal calls for building 152 units of subsidized housing for seniors on this site with a density of 33.4 units per acre.

248 Condo Units

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