Apartment Foes Turn Out in San Pedro : Tough Zoning Laws Favored by Most Speakers at Hearing

Times Staff Writer

Nearly 400 San Pedro residents applauded, booed and cheered at a public hearing this week of the San Pedro Community Plan Advisory Committee, which is considering restrictions on apartment and condominium construction in the seaside community.

After the meeting, members of the committee--appointed earlier this year by Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores--split on how restrictive they should make an interim control ordinance that would halt development while new zoning regulations are considered.

San Pedro residents have complained that "shoe-box" shaped apartments are destroying their community's single-family character. At Tuesday's public hearing, residents speaking in favor of tougher zoning regulations outnumbered opponents nearly 2 to 1.

Tom Dawson, a resident of Vinegar Hill near 17th Street and the first of 50 speakers to address the meeting, attacked what he called "the ongoing rape of this town by the contractors and builders." He asked the committee to take swift action to stop the razing of houses to make room for apartment buildings, saying: "Every day you delay is a day for the builders to continue their destruction of San Pedro."

Call for Compromise

Few speakers were willing to say apartment and condominium construction should continue unimpeded. But Nancy Mavar, a member of the newly formed Citizens for the Betterment of San Pedro, which opposes what it calls "radical" growth restrictions, asked the committee to move slowly and to appoint developers to the advisory panel.

Her call for compromise was met with both applause and derisive laughter.

"Are we at war?" Mavar asked rhetorically.

"Yes!" one woman shouted from the audience.

Some property owners said a halt in apartment construction would hurt their property rights. "I'm tired of hearing these people tell me what to do and what not to do," said Joe Amalfitano, who said he owns a few apartments and other properties.

Others, like Ted Lester, a 42-year resident of San Pedro, blamed apartment construction for a host of social problems, including traffic congestion and gang violence. "San Pedro has become a mini-L.A.," he said.

Flores appointed the 25-member committee in March to study zoning and also to consider such issues as parking and landscaping. The committee is limited to San Pedro residents. Ten of the 25 members are business people, including three real estate agents and a developer, said Ann D'Amato, an aide to Flores.

Mario Juravich, also an aide to the councilwoman, said Flores will evaluate the committee's recommendations before making any proposals to the city Planning Commission and the City Council.

If an interim control ordinance is drafted and approved by the City Council, the committee may meet again to amend the San Pedro Community Plan, which was adopted by the Los Angeles City Council in 1980 and cut San Pedro's potential growth from a maximum population of 240,000 to 103,000. The community now has about 70,000 residents.

The advisory committee was scheduled to meet again this week in closed session. Juravich said the committee was under no timetable and could deliberate as long as necessary.

Mixed Reaction

Some committee members said after Tuesday's meeting they would support a temporary ban on all apartment and condominium construction, and others said they would oppose such a sweeping measure.

Armando Sanchez said he would push for the committee to adopt a temporary moratorium on all apartment construction as quickly as possible. Sanchez is also a member of the San Pedro Downzoning Committee, a local organization that has gathered 5,000 signatures from residents favoring a moratorium on apartment construction.

"The overall spirit of this meeting strongly recommends that we have an immediate interim control ordinance," Sanchez said. "The people want a blanket ICO."

But the chairman of the committee, Noah Modisett, said he would support an interim control ordinance that "will be fair and have a certain amount of balance to it." Modisett said he might support a temporary halt to construction in certain neighborhoods, but would opposed a communitywide moratorium.

William Lusby, an architect and vice chairman of the committee, said he too opposes a halt to all residential construction because it would drive up housing costs.

'Something More Creative'

Instead, Lusby proposed slight modifications to the existing zoning laws and design controls that would force developers to "do something more creative."

Anti-growth activists say that one of the problems with the current zoning is that it allows apartments/condominiums to be built in single-family neighborhoods under the RD1.5 zone, which permits one apartment for every 1,500 square feet of lot. On a standard 5,000-square-foot lot, three apartments may be built.

Developers have taken advantage of that zone to tear down single-family houses and replace them with apartments or condominiums.

In addition, the RD1.5 zone allows developers to string together adjacent lots to squeeze in more apartments. Other residential zoning--such as R1 for single-family houses, or R2, which permits duplexes--do not allow developers to put together lots for bigger projects.

Lusby proposed that RD1.5 lots of 6,000 square feet or larger automatically become RD2, which allows one unit per 2,000 square feet. He said that when two or more lots in adjoining zones are tied together, they should be governed by the zoning that allows fewer units.

The committee is also expected to look at apartment development along Pacific Avenue, which once was San Pedro's main commercial thoroughfare but has declined in recent years with the rise of business activities on Gaffey Street and Western Avenue.

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