Mile-Long Stretch Traditionally Home to Small Businesses : Lomita Creates Zone to Promote Coast Highway Development

Times Staff Writer

The Lomita City Council has passed a sweeping ordinance designed to attract larger commercial development to a mile-long stretch of Pacific Coast Highway that has traditionally been home to many of the city's small, family owned businesses.

But a Lomita business owner who has led community opposition to the ordinance told the council that he plans to mount an initiative campaign against the measure.

Mark Hays, organizer of Citizens for a Better Lomita, said he plans to collect signatures on a petition to place the issue on the city ballot in June, 1990.

The city had made several revisions in the ordinance to address residents' concerns, but Hays said he remained opposed to the measure because of a provision restricting service-oriented businesses, including doctors and professional offices, to the second floor.

"Some mix of use would be better for the city," Hays said.

Senior Citizens

Some residents have argued that restricting doctors to second-floor offices could present a hardship to Lomita's many senior citizens.

The ordinance, which establishes a commercial-retail zone, passed by a 4-1 vote Monday. Councilman Hal Hall, who called the zoning change too restrictive, cast the opposing vote.

City officials have argued that the ordinance, which sets minimums for new commercial developments of at least 100 feet in width and 10,000 square feet in area, will help the city gain control over development on the street, increase the city's tax base and provide funds to maintain the city's services and infrastructure.

"The question is what kinds of uses would be better for the city of Lomita in the long run," Mayor Charles Belba said.

The ordinance takes effect in 30 days. At that time, the City Council will decide whether to lift a moratorium that has been in effect since October, 1987. The moratorium was intended to give city officials time to study ways to control the current hodgepodge of mixed-use retail businesses along the highway, Lomita's major commercial thoroughfare.

The ordinance applies to the entire portion of Pacific Coast Highway within Lomita's boundaries, beginning about half a block west of Western Avenue and extending just beyond Pennsylvania Avenue on the west.

Smaller Crowd

Although previous meetings on the issue attracted overflow crowds largely opposed to the ordinance, the audience at Monday's meeting was considerably smaller. About 75 people attended, and fewer than a dozen addressed the council.

Opponents had feared that some provisions of the ordinance, particularly the larger lot requirements, would threaten the small businesses that line the busy street and attract more traffic throughout the area, including side streets.

Many of the residents' fears, however, appeared to have been allayed Monday by revisions that had been made since the ordinance was approved by the Planning Commission in May.

The major revision included existing commercial lots that are 5,000 feet square and 50 feet wide as conforming properties. Under the previous version, such lots would have been legally nonconforming. Owners of nonconforming lots must obtain special permission from the city to expand or renovate their property. Many of the smaller businesses on Pacific Coast Highway fall into the 50-foot-wide category.

Hotel Size

Other changes include decreasing the minimum size of new hotels and motels from 50 rooms to 35 and eliminating a requirement that such hotels have banquet facilities. Under the original ordinance, no setback was required, but residents objected that businesses might build directly against residential property lines, blocking views and light. The revision approved Monday requires buildings more than 16 feet high to be set back a minimum of 10 feet from residential property.

Despite those concessions from the city, Hays said restricting all professional offices to the second floor is a "deal-breaker" that made the difference between agreeing with the ordinance or continuing to fight it.

Hays, a resident of Torrance who would be ineligible to vote in Lomita, said he had compiled a list of more than 200 Lomita residents who would work to put the issue on the ballot. He estimated that about 950 signatures--10% of Lomita's registered voters--are needed.

Although Hays and his family have been in business in Lomita for 15 years, council members have criticized him as an outsider who has stirred up trouble in the normally quiet town.

Intimidation Tactic

At Monday's meeting, Councilman Harold Croyts called Hays' plan to mount an initiative campaign an intimidation tactic.

"We've heard your comments about a referendum if we don't do what you're saying," Croyts said. "It's threatening."

But some Lomita residents joined Hays in criticizing the ordinance, arguing that the city would be better off without it, or with a toned-down version.

"Those of us who live off of the highway but close, contiguous to it, are going to be affected," said Bob Miller, a 35-year Lomita resident who lives on Walnut Street near Pacific Coast Highway. "I think overall it's going to be detrimental to the city to increase traffic flow and retail density, which I think this ordinance will do."

Intends to Sell

Anne Guasti, who owns partly vacant commercial property at 2335-2339 Pacific Coast Highway, said she intends to sell her property rather than develop it under the new restrictions, although her property is not affected by them.

She said she was upset because the property was zoned one way when she bought it and then it was changed.

"I think it downgrades my property," said Guasti, whose parcel, including Lomita Florist and six rented homes, is 130 feet wide and 240 feet deep. "What I've got now is too small for some things and too large for others."

Hall, the lone dissenter on the council, said he would have preferred leaving the zoning on Pacific Coast Highway unchanged.

"I think this is altogether too restrictive, and I wasn't for the moratorium to begin with," Hall said in an interview. "I hate to see the restriction of no offices on the ground floor."

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