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General Plan Update Stirs Hermosa Outcry

Times Staff Writer

Hermosa Beach property owners along Pacific Coast Highway have squared off against City Hall after taking their first peek at proposals to update portions of the city’s General Plan.

City officials say the owners should study the proposals before rushing to the barricades.

The owners, in a show of force at a packed meeting of the Planning Commission last week, warned of political and legal retaliation if the city changes the zoning of parcels in the “multi-use corridor” established along the highway in the mid-1960s.

“This is government at its worst,” said Howard Longacre, to the applause of fellow property owners. “Do you know what it’s like to have people messing around with your property?”

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Longacre and other speakers said their greatest concern is that rezoning would lead to further commercial encroachment on residential property in the highway corridor. That would make their neighborhoods less desirable places to live and thus erode home property values, speakers said.

“Be damned careful what you do,” said longtime resident Wilma Burt. “You’re stepping on everyone’s toes in town.”

Commission Chairman Jim Peirce blamed the fracas on “a lot of miscommunication and misinformation.”

“When people understand better what we’re trying to do,” he said, “I think the majority will settle down and realize that there are some substantial benefits for them (in the proposals).”

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Peirce urged the property owners to read copies of the proposed land-use revisions. Mike Schubach, the planning director, said the commission’s next meeting on April 4 will give owners and officials another--and, he hopes, more peaceful--opportunity to understand each other better.

“We’re not trying to create problems,” he said in an interview. “We’re trying to resolve problems that already exist. We’re trying to stop commercial encroachment while helping the (highway) businesses with their problems.”

Schubach said the designation of the highway strip for mixed commercial and residential use 25 years ago “really hasn’t worked out well.” It led to patchwork development with parcels being zoned for commercial or residential use according to the need at the time, he said.

Many businesses have failed for lack of customer parking or space to expand, he said, and homeowners who live behind the stores have fiercely resisted incursions onto their territory.

The major goals of revising the plan, Schubach said, are to orient businesses more toward the highway and away from residences; set up landscaped buffer zones; tailor building heights and setbacks to preserve views; and acknowledge nonconforming uses that have grown up over the years.

Schubach said that generally, parcels would be zoned in accordance with their present use. The density of residential lots behind the stores would generally conform with densities in adjacent neighborhoods, he said.

The present General Plan doesn’t provide the protections that property owners need, Schubach said. Instead, it tends to intensify conflicts among property owners by leaving longstanding problems unresolved, he said.

The City Council imposed a building moratorium on the corridor last year, pending the outcome of the land-use review. Schubach said the revised plan for the corridor should be ready for policy decisions by the end of April and could be wrapped up in June.

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Hermosa Beach, which has 21,000 residents packed into about one square mile, is the sixth most densely populated community in the county, Schubach said.

Peirce, the commission chairman, said development in the mostly residential areas outside the business corridor has stabilized in recent years. General Plan changes affecting those areas are continually being made and usually are minor refinements that provoke few controversies, he said.


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