El Segundo Curbs Building Heights

Times Staff Writer

In an effort to prevent high-rise developments from spilling over into residential neighborhoods, the City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday that will restrict heights of new buildings west of Sepulveda Boulevard to 45 feet, or a maximum of four stories.

In a 3-2 vote taken without discussion, the council agreed to reduce the current height limit of 200 feet for most properties in the C-3 special commercial zone that stretches along the west side of Sepulveda Boulevard and includes a few lots farther west in the city's residential area. The height limit for commercial buildings that are next to residential lots will be reduced from 100 to 40 feet.

City planners say the new height limits reflect El Segundo's struggle to preserve its small-town ambiance despite intense development in the industrial corridor east of Sepulveda Boulevard.

During a series of public hearings before the City Council and Planning Commission, several residents said the massive developments like those allowed under the old height restriction could impair their air quality, property values, privacy, sunlight and television reception.

But those who oppose the 45-foot height limit--including property owners along the west side of Sepulveda Boulevard and Councilmen Keith Schuldt and Jack Siadek--say the city has made it nearly impossible to build along the west side of Sepulveda. Schuldt and Siadek cast the two dissenting votes.

Schuldt had previously recommended further study before passing the ordinance. "It's gotten to the point where someone buys a piece of property and then has to go to City Hall and find out what they can do with it," Schuldt said in an interview Tuesday.

"We are really not dealing with that many properties, so let's find out how much impact a 100-foot or 200-foot building would have on the area," Schuldt said.

No Adverse Impact

The Planning Commission decided in January that the ordinance would have no adverse impact on the environment and therefore required no further study, according to associate planner Merryl Edelstein.

Several property owners along Sepulveda Boulevard also had requested more research on the impact of constructing the 15- to 20-story buildings allowed under the 200-foot limit. Several C-3 property owners have testified against the 45-foot height limit, saying it would decrease their property values and prevent them from replacing existing buildings in the event of fire or other disasters.

"They have cut down my property value by as much as 75% because it can no longer be sold for a high-rise or almost anything else for that matter, said Jon Baldwin, owner of the New Pacific Lumber Co. at 331 N. Sepulveda Blvd.

But proponents of the 45-foot height limit say such stringent restrictions are necessary to keep massive developments and the traffic they create out of residential areas.

'Retain Residential Integrity'

"If we are to maintain our residential integrity and quality of life here in El Segundo, then we cannot permit aggressive construction projects to be built next to our residents' homes," Councilwoman Le Synadinos said in an interview before Tuesday's council meeting.

"There are large commercial structures next to residential areas now, and tenants from those buildings use our residential streets for their parking lots and as shortcuts to get to and from work."

El Segundo's population swells nearly eightfold during the day as more than 100,000 people travel to the city's refinery, aerospace firms or banks on Sepulveda's east side.

Sepulveda and El Segundo boulevards act as a boundary separating El Segundo's 13,000 residents from daily traffic jams as workers drive to and from work. But increasing numbers of commuters--particularly those who work on the west side of Sepulveda--are using residential streets to avoid congestion on major thoroughfares, city planners said.

'Drawing the Line'

"Our residents don't want commuters speeding down their streets trying to cut down their travel time," City Planner Lynn Harris said. "This is a clear case of the community drawing the line and saying they don't want developers in their backyard."

The new ordinance, which will go into effect April 3, will also reduce the permitted floor space in a building from twice the size of a lot to no more than the total square footage of the lot.

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