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Strict Building Limits Endorsed in Torrance

Times Staff Writer

Over the objections of real estate agents, builders and property owners, the Torrance City Council has endorsed tighter controls on development of small apartment and condominium projects throughout the city.

Rejecting charges that they were downzoning property and restricting new housing construction, the council voted 5-2 to have the city attorney draft a revised zoning ordinance that will control the size and scope of development on more than 4,300 residential lots covering 670 acres.

A final vote on the new restrictions is expected in January. The new ordinance will modify emergency controls adopted last March after homeowners in the city’s old downtown area complained that large apartment buildings were being built side-by-side with single-family residences.

Concern that the three-story apartment buildings were overshadowing traditional single-story homes and causing traffic and parking problems prompted adoption of emergency regulations on the size, height, open space and parking of new projects.

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With little vacant land left for building in the city, developers have been using so-called “R-3" residential lots for construction of three- and four-unit multifamily buildings, often in areas next to single-family homes. Such lots are scattered throughout the city but are concentrated in the old downtown, the area north of the Torrance Marriott Hotel, the El Nido neighborhood of north Torrance and the Walteria section in the southern reaches of the city.

The proposed restrictions will limit the total floor area of a project to 60% of the lot area and require yards or other open space. The city will have to conduct an in-depth planning review for all buildings taller than 27 feet.

In addition, two parking spaces will be required for two-bedroom units and three for larger units.

A parade of speakers at Tuesday’s four-hour public hearing and council debate protested that the restrictions go too far.

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“What we ended up with was overkill,” said Paul Novak of the Building Industry Assn. “We are being forced to build smaller buildings with less space and more parking, which doesn’t make any sense.”

Take a Middle Course

Novak unsuccessfully urged the council to take a middle course by allowing larger buildings on lots next to existing apartment or commercial structures.

Gene Burke, director of legal affairs for Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, drew applause from the audience of more than 100 when he said the development restrictions were not in the long-term interest of the city.

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Burke warned that failure to construct more housing will drive up rents and inevitably lead to demands for rent control.

He branded the development restrictions “downzoning” and argued that “very often downzoning is simply another form of taking by government.”

Audience Supportive

Councilman Tim Mock called Burke’s remarks “really misleading” and Councilman Dan Walker objected to the comment about rent control, but the audience was clearly supportive of Burke’s argument that property rights were threatened.

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Tony Kriss, director of the Torrance-Lomita-Carson Board of Realtors, called the development controls “downzoning, pure and simple.”

Kriss, an unsuccessful City Council candidate in 1986, said banks and insurance companies, which he refused to identify, are concerned about the impact of the restrictions if older, denser apartment complexes are destroyed by fire or earthquake and have to be rebuilt according to the more restrictive zoning.

Apart from a majority of council members and city planners, the only support for the development controls during the council debate came from the Torrance League of Women Voters.

“We feel these studied precautions will discourage overbuilding, enlarge open space, relieve multifamily parking problems and provide adequate housing for our city,” said League President Lola Ungar.

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Councilmen Bill Applegate and Walker voted against the proposal.


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