The Culver City Council decided not to buy a deteriorating sports club for a municipal recreation center, and it rejected plans by the property owner to build 30 townhouses on the site.
It appeared the townhouse project would be approved when the City Council voted 4 to 1 Monday not to buy the defunct Westside Sports Club. After discussing the appraised value of the site in a closed session, council members said the city could not afford the club.
However, the council surprised the developer and many residents in the audience who supported the townhouse project by voting to overturn the Planning Commission's recommendation to approve it.
"It's a slap in the face," said Mitch Chupack, project manager for property owner Richard K. Ehrlich and his Montoro Development Corp. in Redondo Beach.
Chupack said the club at 4901 Overland Blvd. will not be reopened as a sports center, nor will he spend the money to demolish the center, which has been vandalized since it closed in September after nearly 15 years of barely breaking even.
Councilman Richard M. Alexander, the lone vote supporting the project, questioned whether the city was exposing itself to legal action. He asked City Atty. Joseph Pannone if the city could be liable for limiting a property owner to a land use that has proved to be unprofitable.
Pannone said the city could be liable in that situation.
May Take Legal Action
"I don't know what we are doing," Alexander said. "I don't know what direction we are giving the applicant."
Chupack said he will consider legal action.
"They have given us no other option," he said in an interview Tuesday. "At this point we feel the city owns the property. They have told us that we can't develop it commercially, and that they still want us to operate it as a health club. We have tried that, and it doesn't work. We now have no commercial use of that property that is economically feasible."
In explaining his vote against the townhouse project, Mayor Paul A. Jacobs said he is unconvinced that a properly managed sports club could not be successful, and that the city needed recreational facilities. He also said he did not think housing is appropriate for that site.
Councilman Steven Gourley said 30 townhouses are too many for the 2.4-acre site, particularly with dwindling open space.
Later in the meeting, Jacobs proposed a building moratorium on multifamily development until the city comes up with a way to offset the impact on parks and other recreational facilities. The council will discuss that proposal at a future meeting.
"I get the feeling that this is a new sensitivity in Culver City," Gourley said. "Developers do have an impact beyond their own developments. In this case, bringing in 30 upscale families is going to have an impact on our parks."
The city had commissioned a study to determine how it could purchase and operate the sports club as a public recreational center on a self-supporting basis. Human Services Director Syd Kronenthal, who oversees the Parks and Recreation Division, had been pushing for the city to take over the site because of limited park space and overcrowded facilities.
The study by a recreation consulting firm, Stellar Fitness, concluded that the center's location and the area's demographics could successfully support a sports club.
It concluded that the club failed because it was poorly managed, poorly maintained and didn't provide the equipment and services offered by competitors.
The report also said that the center can not compete in today's market without major renovations. The consultants offered two suggestions, a $1.5-million overhaul designed to accommodate 5,000 members, or a $540,000 renovation that could serve 3,000 members.
A separate traffic study concluded that at either membership level traffic on Overland Avenue would be significantly affected, and that parking needs would exceed the current supply by at least 150%.
The consultant, Arthur L. Kassan, suggested removing a tennis court to provide 25 to 30 additional spaces, arranging for shared parking at the nearby county assessor's office after 5 p.m. and weekends, or acquiring adjacent property to expand the parking lot.
But city staff said neither proposal would work because it would not produce enough income to be self-supporting nor serve enough residents.
Robert Norquist, assistant to the chief administrative officer, said the only way the city could afford to acquire and operate the center would be through general obligation bonds or by creating an assessment district that would cost property owners up to $55 a year.
The City Council decided that it was too high a price to pay for the site. Though the city's appraisal was not made public, the developer estimates the value of the site to be between $5 million and $9 million, depending on what the city would allow to be built on it.
Residents living near the site said they were disappointed with the council's decision.