Torrance Adopts New Construction Limits : Controls on Apartment, Condo Projects Seek to Protect Neighborhoods

Times Staff Writer

Despite protests from outspoken property owners, the Torrance City Council has taken action to protect residential neighborhoods by imposing tough controls on construction of condominiums and apartments.

After nearly three hours of discussion, the council voted 6 to 1 late Tuesday night to tighten restrictions on the size, scope and height of future projects on more than 4,300 residential lots throughout Torrance.

With residential property scarce and land values soaring, owners of properties zoned R-3, for multifamily residences, have been developing such projects, particularly in traditionally single-family neighborhoods near old downtown Torrance.

Halt to Construction

The development restrictions, which have been in effect on an emergency basis since last year, are intended to halt construction of large apartment and condominium buildings that have overshadowed neighboring homes and contributed to parking problems.

The restrictions limit development of living units to 60% of the lot area, require two off-street parking spaces for two-bedroom units plus guest parking and impose requirements for open space and storage.

A last-minute addition to the regulations will require property owners to obtain a permit to construct any building more than two stories or 27 feet in height. Underground garages are considered a story. This assures that most small-scale apartment and condominium projects will be reviewed by city planners to assess their impact on adjoining properties.

In a repeat of previous public hearings, owners of the R-3 properties denounced therestrictions as unfair and expressed fear that they would not be allowed to rebuild to the present density if their buildings were destroyed by fire or earthquake.

"They keep on predicting a big earthquake here someday," said Sherry Silver, owner of an eight-unit building. "I'm scared that I'm going to lose what I have."

Although Torrance Fire Chief Scott Adams said no apartment building in memory has been completely destroyed by fire, property owners remained fearful that disaster could destroy their buildings and ruin them.

Property owner R. S. Collins said: "It hasn't happened, but it can happen."

Councilman Bill Applegate, who later voted against the restrictions, tried to calm the audience by explaining that the real change occurred in 1972 when the city--reacting to the construction of giant complexes on Anza Avenue and elsewhere--reduced the maximum density of apartment projects to 27 units per acre.

Draconian Restrictions

That density limit remains in effect, but the new restrictions make building to that limit virtually impossible on small lots.

"You would like it rolled back prior to 1972," Applegate told the crowd which numbered more than 100 early in the evening. "That's really the hopes and wishes and wants of most of the people here. That's not going to happen."

The lengthy public hearing ended in a debate between incumbent Councilman Dan Walker, who is up for reelection, and real estate broker Tony Kriss, who is running against him.

Walker accused Kriss of promoting construction of "low-income housing"--a politically sensitive subject in Torrance, which has not sought federal housing funds because of community objections.

Kriss said he was speaking only of "affordable housing" and he said again that the development restrictions pose "a threat to owners of property."

Council members, who have been bombarded by opponents of the development controls, heard from two supporters of the development restrictions.

Judd Webster said his neighborhood is being threatened by large developments overshadowing homes such as his.

"If they build up," he said, "I don't get sun for half a day."

Nancy Sherwood, owner of an R-3 lot who refinanced some property last year, said she was annoyed by opponents' "scare tactics" that suggest that lenders will not finance such properties in Torrance because of the development controls.

"I've had absolutely no problems" obtaining financing, Sherwood said.

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