Compton Rebuffs Move to Build Townhouses on Part of Auto Plaza

Times Staff Writer

The City Council Tuesday told its Redevelopment Agency staff to begin soliciting commercial development proposals for the Compton Auto Plaza, rebuffing the pleas of a clergy-led community group that wants to build low-cost, owner-occupied townhouses on a portion of the 55-acre site.

After getting a cold shoulder at the council work session held to discuss development options for the land, leaders of the South Central Organizing Committee (SCOC) vowed to gather 20,000 signatures on petitions in order "to tell the council what the people of Compton want."

Won't Surrender Dream

"We're not going to give up this dream," the Rev. Reuben Anderson told about 40 people from SCOC who attended the workshop. "We need to make the council responsive to the people."

Standing on the steps outside the council chambers, Anderson and other clergy leaders drew laughter from the crowd by making light of the city's attempts to lure car dealers, shopping center developers and other commercial concerns to the site. Nobody, the clergymen said, wants to come to the city, which is steeped in crime and poverty, until "we straighten up Compton."

SCOC is arguing that its low-cost housing proposal would help stabilize the city. The organization is proposing construction of as many as 600 townhouses that would sell for about $60,000 to working-class families with annual incomes of up to $26,000. Two religious denominations have already pledged to raise $8 million for the project.

City officials argue that the community ought to hold to its original plan for the site, which lies against the north side of the Artesia Freeway at the Alameda Street off-ramp, a short distance from the Harbor and Long Beach freeways. The land is zoned for commercial development and city officials say they still believe such development would provide jobs for its unemployed young people and generate much-needed sales tax revenues.

Redevelopment manager Cynthia Coleman said SCOC, which has never presented a formal proposal for the housing development, is allowed like any other group to submit a development plan to the city.

But only one council member, Bernice Woods, has expressed an interest in discussing the housing proposal further. Woods suggested that another workshop be held to discuss SCOC's ideas. The council, though, did not set a date for such a workshop.

Many city officials have said they do not believe it would be in the city's best interests to approve housing on what they view as a valuable piece of commercial land. Councilman Maxcy Filer said the city sold bonds to buy, clear and improve the land for commercial development and that the bondholders expect commercial development on the site.

6 Possible Configurations

The redevelopment staff, meanwhile, presented to the council six different possible development configurations for the site. Council members said they want to begin reviewing proposals from developers, as well as marketing studies now under way, as soon as possible to determine what should be built on the site.

The six development options presented by the redevelopment staff were:

Auto dealerships, a shopping center and a hotel, which is already on the southwest corner of the site but has yet to open. The redevelopment staff described this as the "safest" option because it would concentrate on auto dealers and shopping center developers who have approached the city about locating there.

Auto dealerships, the hotel and an entertainment center that would include restaurants and theaters. This was deemed "supportive" of the hotel, which the city is hoping will lure convention business.

Hotel and shopping and entertainment centers. Auto dealerships would be eliminated.

Hotel and shopping center, eliminating auto dealerships.

Hotel, shopping center and internationally recognized electronics manufacturers that would sell both retail and wholesale. At this time, the staff said, the option is "very adventuresome" because the city does not know if electronics firms would want to locate there. Marketing studies are under way to determine if the idea is feasible, staff said.

Hotel, electronics manufacturers and entertainment center. Studies indicate this mix would be the "most supportive" of the hotel. Staff said it is also the most "risk-filled" option because the city would have to find manufacturers and entertainment firms interested in locating there.

Though the site is known as the Compton Auto Plaza, the city acknowledged years ago that its fledgling auto mall would never rival in size or tax revenues the malls in other cities such as Cerritos. Only one dealer is in business now, but the city's redevelopment staff says it has proposals from six other dealers.

A Mack Truck franchise has been pressing the city for weeks to be allowed to buy the old Brett Mitchell Chevrolet dealership in the mall so the franchise can close its Signal Hill and Los Angeles locations and relocate in Compton.

The city, however, is mired in a legal fight with Mitchell over title to the land and wants the truck firm to consider another parcel farther from the new hotel. The hotel itself has had a fitful history. Originally scheduled to open in May, 1988, the developer missed another anticipated opening date last week. The latest opening date has been set for October, barring any more construction delays or financial problems for the developer.

A Newport Beach shopping center developer has been waiting since April for the city to decide if it would set aside 25 acres for a shopping center. According to the staff, such a development could generate up to $100 million in sales annually and employ 150 to 200 people.

Whatever development option is chosen for the land, the council has made it clear that developers will pay their way this time. Many residents have complained that in the past the city gave too much in the way of selling land at discount rates or prices to businesses that later failed.

"It just isn't Christmas time as far as I see it," said Councilman Filer. "As far as I'm concerned, if (developers) bring nothing to the table, then don't bother to come to the table."

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