Neighborhood protests and City Council concern about increased traffic in a residential area of south Torrance are posing a major roadblock to a five-story hotel project near the Torrance Municipal Airport.
After hearing neighborhood residents complain that the hotel would worsen traffic congestion, the City Council unanimously agreed to send the Hampton Inn project back to the city's Planning Commission for review.
Although the council decided Tuesday night not to require a full environmental impact statement on the proposed 134-room hotel, council members clearly had reservations about the project's potential effect on traffic.
"There is no question that traffic is the biggest problem our city faces now and in the future," said Councilman Dan Walker. "We know that there are tremendous traffic counts on Ocean Avenue and in that area."
1,407 More Trips a Day
The hotel, planned for the corner of 238th Street and Los Codona Avenue, just west of the Hawthorne Boulevard commercial strip, would generate an estimated 1,407 additional vehicle trips per day on nearby Ocean Avenue, according to the developer's traffic consulting firm, Moble, Grover & Associates.
The two-lane street already carries 780 more vehicle trips per day than the 2,000 vehicle trips that traffic engineers say is the standard for a residential street. However, although Ocean Avenue includes single-family homes, apartments and condominiums, some residents were surprised to learn that the city had designated it a residential collector street feeding traffic to Lomita Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway.
The current traffic volume is only one-quarter of the standard 10,000 vehicle trips per day for a residential collector street.
The project developer, Thomas K. Fitzpatrick, was present but did not testify at the council meeting. Only opponents spoke.
"This is a residential area," said Jim McEntyre of the Southwood Riviera Homeowners Assn. "We certainly wouldn't like to see any more traffic. . . . This area of south Torrance is already jammed with traffic."
McEntyre challenged as "very strange" the city's latest traffic study, which suggests that Ocean Avenue has a low accident rate and can handle increased traffic from the hotel.
He noted that the December study of traffic on Ocean Avenue included traffic counts for the Meadow Park school on 230th Street near Lomita Boulevard although the school has been closed for months. The six-acre property is proposed to be developed as condominiums, which would contribute to traffic in the area.
McEntyre also expressed fears that an airplane might strike the 64-foot-tall hotel, which would stand 1,000 feet from the end of the Torrance Airport's main runway.
City officials said the building is well within the city's height limits and would not require aircraft warning lights. City observations show that 80% of the aircraft in the area are flying at 400 to 600 feet when they cross Hawthorne Boulevard.
McEntyre was not impressed. "All it takes is one impact," he said.
Resident Edward Wooley also questioned the validity of the traffic study and making zoning decisions based on average traffic volumes. "The problems don't occur on the average," he said. "They occur at peak periods. That's when the danger is greatest. That's when the traffic is."
Called Urgent Problem
Neighborhood residents were joined by Lola Ungar, president of the Torrance League of Women Voters, who warned council members that traffic has become an urgent problem in the city.
"Every new development adds new problems, but solutions are not forthcoming," Ungar said. "This Southern California problem is hitting home in Torrance."
She suggested that the city require measures to ease the impact of all major developments in the future.