L.B. OKs Mini-Mall Despite What Foes Call ‘Scare Tactics’
A slide flashed on the screen behind the City Council depicting a mini-mall designed, in the words of its architect, to look like a “rambling ranch village.”
Then came a second slide. The landscaped, country atmosphere of the shopping center was replaced by a stark, imposing 4-story medical building designed for the same triangular site at Los Coyotes Diagonal, Wardlow Road and Palo Verde Avenue.
Developer Larry Agajanian told an audience of council members and alarmed residents that if he wasn’t granted a zoning change to allow construction of the shopping center, he might erect the medical building of nearly twice the size or sell the property to someone who would undertake a similar project.
The council sided with Agajanian, voting 5 to 1 Tuesday in favor of the change. But opponents, who favored a park for the site, said they resented the developer’s “scare tactics.”
At the very least, said members of the East Long Beach Preservation Committee, the rezoning issue should have been delayed until a new 5th District council member is elected in November. The district has lacked representation on the council since Ernie Kell became full-time mayor.
Although Kell can’t vote, he said he still thinks of himself as the representative of his old district until a successor is elected.
Kell said he would have backed the project. He warned that the medical building could have housed any number of offices, including a methadone clinic where heroin addicts receive treatment. City records show Agajanian contributed more than $1,600 to Kell during his campaign for mayor.
Councilman Tom Clark said he favored the development because “the alternative to have a park there is not realistic.” Councilmen Evan Anderson Braude and Clarence Smith both praised the design.
Councilman Ray Grabinski cast the only dissenting vote, saying he opposes the rule that only residents within 300 feet of a proposed development are required to be notified about a builders’ plans. Agajanian said he was “dumbfounded” by the opposition to the project, which the Planning Commission considered to be a model for mini-mall design. He said he believes the criticism is a product of a no-growth movement sweeping the city.
The seven-shop plaza will be “one of the finest neighborhood centers ever offered for your consideration,” he told the council. It was designed with a low roof line that will blend in with the residential tracts.
Mini-mall opponents said they wanted the one-acre parcel developed as a park even though it is about a mile from El Dorado Park, the largest in the city.
Mike Bowman, whose home is near the project site, criticized Agajanian for posting signs stating that a medical building would be built on the site. Bowman said the signs appeared when residents began opposing the mini-mall.
“We’re being shotgunned into accepting his commercial-retail building and I feel very uncomfortable,” he said.
Another resident, Janet Pottebaum, accused Agajanian of misleading residents into thinking the only alternative to the mini-mall would be a huge medical building.
“These are scare tactics,” Pottebaum said. “Our neighborhood is being ramrodded into thinking the only picture is what you see here today.”’
James Bliss said the matter should be held until a new council member could be appointed.
“Two-hundred years ago, the cry was ‘Taxation without representation,’ ” he said. “Now the cry is ‘Rezoning without representation.’ ”
But some residents said they believed the mini-mall would be acceptable.
Bob Johnson said he was involved in the founding the East Long Beach Preservation Committee, but has split from the group. He said residents were unrealistic in seeking a park for the site.