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Huntington Beach council rejects disputed Ellis Avenue residential-commercial project

Ellis Avenue condo rendering
A rendering shows a proposed development that would have added a four-story building with 48 residential units and a coffee shop to the corner of Beach Boulevard and Ellis Avenue in Huntington Beach.
(Courtesy of Tahir Salim)

After hearing about residents’ traffic safety concerns for several weeks, the Huntington Beach City Council on Tuesday nixed a disputed residential-commercial project that sought to develop 48 residential units and a coffee shop at the corner of Beach Boulevard and Ellis Avenue.

The council’s unanimous decision upheld the city Planning Commission’s denial of Tahir Salim’s project in June. Council members cited traffic safety as their main reason for the rejection. That issue also was cited by the Planning Commission.

Under the proposal, a four-story building including the residences, 891 square feet of commercial space and three levels of underground parking would redevelop the property at 8041 Ellis Ave. It would provide five affordable-housing units.

The site shares its eastern property line with duplexes and other low-density housing.

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Salim modified one element of his proposal after he appealed the commission’s decision June 20, pushing the project to the City Council for a final vote. He added a “pork chop” raised median design to allow only right-turn entry and exit to mitigate concerns about people illegally making a left turn.

However, the amendment created more issues because it could impede the Fire Department from accessing the property, pushing the site out of compliance with city codes, according to city staff.

Several council members said they were familiar with Ellis Avenue and Beach Boulevard, saying they often have to wait through two or three stoplights before they can get across Beach. Sometimes they have to find side streets to get around the congested area, they said.

Mayor Pro Tem Lyn Semeta said she didn’t think the traffic safety issue was being mitigated in an area that’s seen an increase in accidents.

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“The ingress/egress situation is problematic for me, and I don’t see a way out of it,” she said.

Councilwoman Jill Hardy shared similar sentiments, saying she wasn’t sure the traffic concerns could be addressed at this point.

Councilwoman Barbara Delgleize added that the proposed space wasn’t compatible with the rest of the lot — which also is home to a car wash — and the residences behind it.

Mayor Erik Peterson criticized the traffic study conducted for the project, saying that “no matter what, they come out that it’s feasible, and I don’t see a lot of that elsewhere.” Ultimately, he said, residents’ safety is a top priority.

The council’s decision was a victory for the dozens of residents who urged the council to deny the project in letters or public comments. On Tuesday, many longtime residents again shared their concerns about increased traffic congestion.

“I’ve seen more traffic and more and more accidents,” Denise Nevin said. “I’m not sure why any developer would think this massive project could possibly be approved in such a small parcel using highly impacted Ellis.”

However, Salim saw his project as beneficial to the city because it would beautify an area frequented by homeless people and provide more affordable housing.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he told the council before the vote.

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Though the council mainly discussed traffic as its reason for the denial, the vote highlights its ongoing attempt to retain Huntington’s beach town aesthetic. Salim’s project could have helped the city meet the state’s rules for low-income housing because it falls within the city’s Beach Boulevard and Edinger Avenue corridors, an area that doesn’t meet the current requirements.

In January, California sued Huntington Beach over what state officials called the city’s failure to allow enough homebuilding to accommodate a growing population. The case is continuing after a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge recently denied the city’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

New police management contract

In other business Tuesday, the council formally authorized a new contract with the city’s police management union that provides members a one-time $1,200 reimbursement for law enforcement-related equipment purchases.

The council’s final OK was swift, with no discussion.

Under the contract, retroactive to 2018 and effective through June 2020, members of the Police Management Assn. also will see changes in medical benefits. The city’s monthly contribution toward the union members’ medical plans will increase by about $200.

The proposal is expected to cost the city $41,654.

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