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Proposed Four-Story Apartment Building Draws Criticism in Manhattan Beach

Jan 21, 2022 10:56AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
A proposed 79-unit, four-story apartment building to be built just above the corner of Rosecrans and Highland in North Manhattan Beach has drawn criticism before it has even received city approval.

The "Highrose" development would merge the lots of the former Verandas banquet facility and the Tradewinds Village building to create a 96,217-square-foot multifamily residential building backing up the the "tank farm" portion of the Chevron refinery. Six of the 79 units would be set aside for "very low income" households.

Because the project is being built under special state "Density Bonus Laws" and offers affordable housing, the project qualifies for a streamlined review process.

The review process is non-discretionary, which means that the city staff may only evaluate it based on whether it complies with applicable regulations, such as those relating to height, parking spaces, driveway widths, and so forth. It also would be exempt from review under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The project began drawing attention this week after a public notice was sent out and a public comment period on the project closed on January 17. At the January 18 Manhattan Beach City Council meeting, numerous commenters brought up the proposal and Manhattan Beach Community Development Director Carrie Tai was asked to give an explanation of the approval process.

As explained by the city staff, the review process will proceed as follows:
  • Currently, city staff are reviewing the project, which should take approximately two more weeks.
  • Staff's decision will be emailed to anyone who has contacted the city about the project. (The city is maintaining an email list of people who have reached out to them.)
  • Any member of the public may appeal the staff decision to the city's Planning Commission.
  • Once the Planning Commission makes its decision, any member of the public may appeal that decision to the City Council.
  • Alternatively, City Council may review a Planning Commission decision if two councilmembers request a review within 15 days after the Planning Commission's decision.
The city has created an FAQ page on the project.

Community opinion has already run strong. Numerous comments received by the city show strong objections, and a petition to oppose the Highrose proposal has drawn more than 2,000 signatures in three days.

Nevertheless, the project would help the city come closer to meeting state-mandated density and affordable housing requirements.

Highrose Project Uses Density Bonus Laws

The project is proposed on two contiguous lots, 401 Rosecrans Avenue and 3770 Highland Avenue, which are proposed to be merged into a single 43,549 square-foot parcel to accommodate the project.

The project proposes demolition of a banquet facility (Verandas) and multi-use commercial building (Tradewinds Village) and subsequent construction of a 96,217 square-foot multi-family residential building with 79 rental dwelling units.

The 79 dwelling units would include:

  • 21 studio apartments, 
  • 11 one-bedroom apartments, 
  • 40 two-bedroom apartments, and 
  • 7 three-bedroom apartments. 

The apartments range in size from 512 square feet to 1,727 square feet, comparable to standard rental units throughout Manhattan Beach. Six of the 79 dwelling units will be set aside for “very low income” households. The remaining 73 dwelling units will be market-rate dwelling units.

For fiscal year 2021, “very low income” is defined as $59,100 for a family of four, or $41,400 for an individual, within the greater Los Angeles area.

The project proposes two floors of subterranean parking, containing a total of 127 automobile parking spaces, seven motorcycle parking spaces, and 27 bicycle parking spaces.

The developer is utilizing State Density Bonus Laws, which allow developers to exceed the maximum density requirements as specified in a city’s zoning code if certain criteria are met, like setting aside a certain percentage of the total units in the project aside for very-low income occupants. In addition, State Density Bonus laws allow developers to request waivers from development standards, like setback and height requirements.

The developer has requested waivers for:
  • maximum buildable floor area,
  • maximum number of stories,
  • maximum height, and
  • setback for portions of the structure with walls greater than 24 feet in height.
If no State Density Bonus laws were used, a total of 51 units would be allowed on the site, and a the maximum buildable floor area would be a total of 74,033 square feet. However, the project exceeds the minimum required number of automobile parking spaces under the State Density Bonus laws, which would be 103 parking spaces.

Notices about the project were mailed on January 6 to property owners and residents within 100 feet of the perimeter of the subject parcel. However, several neighbors have complained that they did not receive notice.

SB 35 Requires City to Add More Units

The State of California has been changing laws over the past several years to encourage the building of more housing, including increasing density within areas that are already developed.

Many people are familiar with the most recent changes, contained in SB 9 and SB 10, the first of which effectively ended single-family zoning to encourage lot splits, duplexes and other development within areas that now feature only single-family homes. (A good explainer of SB 9 and the other laws leading up to it is in this analysis on MB Confidential: "The End of SFR Zoning in Manhattan Beach.") 

According to the city, the Highrose project is not an SB 9 project, which deals with individual residential lots. (SB 10 does not apply either; it allows jurisdictions in urbanized areas to adopt voluntary zoning ordinances that permit up to ten residential units on a single parcel within certain areas.)

A regular multi-year planning process known as the Regional Housing Needs Assessment makes suggestions for cities and regions as to how many new housing units are needed. In 2017, a new law (SB 35) threatened cities that don't meet their targets by allowing for more housing, including affordable housing, with a forced-approval process down the road for new development.

The latest Regional Housing Needs Assessment process declared that Manhattan Beach must make way to add 791 total units by 2029.

City officials confirmed to MB News that that the affordable units proposed as a part of the Highrose project, if approved and constructed, would get credited toward Manhattan Beach's state-mandated, lower-income Regional Housing Needs Assessment allocation.

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