BELL GARDENS — Skyrocketing real estate costs have prompted city officials to scale down their long-awaited proposal to raze a row of houses on the southern edge of Bell Gardens Park for more open recreational space.
Bell Gardens planned to add 2.35 acres to the 13.7-acre park near City Hall by purchasing and demolishing 14 residences, including some apartments, on Florence Place between Perry Road and Emil Avenue, City Manager Claude Booker said this week.
But a recently completed appraisal by Los Angeles-based Huguet & Associates showed that property values--at an average of $175,000 a parcel--are about 75% higher than city officials had estimated, Booker said.
OK to Buy 8 Properties
With $1.4 million in redevelopment money available for land acquisition, "we've had to cut out some of the properties," Booker said. The City Council last week authorized its Redevelopment Agency to purchase eight of the 14 properties slated for parkland use, he said.
"We won't be pushing as hard as we would like to to get this finished," Booker said.
Offers will be made within two weeks to owners of the eight properties containing bungalow-style houses and apartment buildings strung east along Florence Place from Perry Road. Demolition could begin as early as September, said Booker, adding that he does not expect opposition to the city's offers.
The residences will be converted into a strip of open land from the Bell Gardens Boys and Girls Club to Florence Place.
Funding for the city to purchase the remaining parcels on Florence Place may not be available for almost a year, Booker said. He said the Redevelopment Agency is studying how the money could be raised.
First Phase in Plan
The 14-parcel land acquisition is the first phase of a 5-year-old expansion plan that would connect the park to Suva elementary and intermediate schools, Booker said. In later phases, city officials intend to purchase up to 35 single- and multifamily dwellings.
The plan to enlarge the park is based on a study that showed the 2.9-square-mile city is heavily congested and needs more open space to accommodate its population of 37,000.
"We will be going with whatever we can afford," said Booker, adding that he is not disappointed by the setback. "One thing I've learned over time is patience. We just have to go a little slower."
Bell Gardens Park is bordered by houses and apartments on Florence Place to the south, houses along Emil Avenue to the east, Suva and Loveland streets to the north and Perry Road to the west.
Last month, the project came under fire by some Bell Gardens residents who claimed the city was moving too fast and did not fully explain to homeowners and tenants living next to the park that they would be displaced.
Several residents on Florence Place complained that a notice they received from the Redevelopment Agency in March was the first time they heard that their homes were targeted for demolition.
The notice, which informed homeowners and tenants living at the 14 parcels that "the city intends to purchase your property," contained no information about public hearings.
But city officials have disputed the claim that residents were not properly informed, saying that public hearings were held over the past year, and were advertised as required by law.
Community Service Director Robert Dickey said the notice, which made no mention of a right to appear at a public hearing, was sufficient announcement of the city's intention to take over the properties, possibly through eminent domain.
"Everyone was notified by first-class mail," Dickey said when asked if he felt residents were properly informed.