Huntington Beach to reconsider rejected housing project amid legal threats
The city of Huntington Beach has agreed to reconsider a twice-rejected 48-unit residential and commercial development proposed for the northeast corner of Beach Boulevard and Ellis Avenue, bringing litigation over the project to at least a temporary halt.
The city and Los Angeles-based nonprofit Californians for Homeownership filed a signed court order last week that stays the case through March, on condition that the city approve the project or hold at least one public hearing on its reconsideration by Feb. 19, according to documents filed in Orange County Superior Court.
The action comes after the city also received a letter this month from Kenneth Stahl, the attorney for project applicant Tahir Salim, as well as another housing organization, the Oakland-based California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund, expressing intent to file their own lawsuit, the city said.
“If the city would be willing to reconsider the denial of the project, then they would be willing to hold off their lawsuit,” Huntington Beach City Atty. Michael Gates said Tuesday. “I have gotten all parties to agree to stay everything until after the anticipated reconsideration.”
The city anticipates that the matter will go back before the City Council early next year.
“We want the project approved and are legally entitled to having it approved,” Stahl said Tuesday, noting that his client spent more than two years working with city staff on the proposal and “had done everything they had asked him to do to minimize the impact of the project.”
The stay comes less than a month after Californians for Homeownership sued the city, claiming Salim’s proposal for 8041 Ellis Ave. was illegally denied according to the state’s Housing Accountability Act, also known as the anti-NIMBY law, which is designed to prevent municipalities from denying housing projects that comply with zoning rules.
Council members cited traffic safety as the main reason for their rejection. That issue also was cited by the Planning Commission.
The proposed development would consist of a four-story mixed-use building including the residences — five of which would be designated as affordable for lower-income occupants — 891 square feet of commercial space for a coffee shop and three levels of underground parking. The plan was to demolish a liquor store, a residence and a portion of a defunct car wash at the site, which shares its eastern property line with duplexes and other low-density housing.
“We believe it is not possible to deny the project lawfully,” Californians for Homeownership attorney Matthew Gelfand said Tuesday.
The group said after filing its lawsuit that “Huntington Beach put the anti-housing views of its residents over the region’s urgent need for more housing, rejecting a project that would have helped 48 families realize their dreams of California homeownership.”
But Gates said last month that “the city’s decision to decline or deny the 48-unit project had nothing to do with the anti-NIMBY act. The decision was made by the council because it was a very tall project in a very small space and based on public health and safety, including emergency access and other related issues.”
Californians for Homeownership aims to file “impact litigation” in service of the state’s housing crisis by “suing cities that get in the way of development of new housing at all affordability levels,” Gelfand said.
Under the Housing Accountability Act, there are only two bases for rejecting development projects that comply with zoning laws: planning staff was unreasonable in its assessment of the project or there are severe risks to public health and safety, Gelfand said.
By focusing on traffic and congestion, city officials and residents “confused those concerns with genuine safety concerns,” Gelfand said.
The Beach and Edinger Corridors Specific Plan that the city adopted in 2010 to encourage consolidating smaller parcels with older buildings in new developments has been a major source of contention for many Huntington Beach residents who argue that it has negatively affected traffic, parking and public safety.
The City Council revised the plan in 2015 to reduce the maximum number of new housing units allowed from 4,500 to 2,100, increase building setbacks, boost minimum parking standards and require commercial uses in all new residential buildings.
Sclafani writes for Times Community News.
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