Easy Reader Staff

Manhattan Beach hires consultants to draft downtown plan

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Downtown Manhattan Beach. Photo by Brad Jacobson

Downtown Manhattan Beach. Photo by Brad Jacobson

Seeking to preserve the momentum started with the week-long Urban Land Institute (ULI) panel in January, on Monday night the city council unanimously approved the hiring of city planning firm Pacific Municipal Consultants (PMC) to draft a Specific Plan for the downtown.

For $297,353, the plan will clarify and likely change some of downtown’s current zoning. It will include four public workshops and take 14 months to complete.

The city already spent $20,000 to pay for representatives from PMC to shadow the ULI process to save money. The group had responded to a request for proposal put out by the city last year.

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Hanging over the council was the July expiration of the moratorium prohibiting change of use in businesses downtown, which the council enacted as a temporary measure last year in response to concerns that the small-town character of downtown was being lost as rents increased and bigger stores moved in.

At Monday night’s city council study session, some residents told the council to wait for the final report from the Urban Land Institute, which is expected in March, and to get more public input before hiring the consultants.

“I feel strongly that the ULI engagement process was successful,” said Ed Caprielian.

“I don’t want to lose credibility by not giving the opportunity to people to participate and to vet the recommendations.”

Councilmember Tony D’Errico addressed Caprielian’s concern.

“No decisions have been made,” said D’Errico. “Mr. Caprielian, you said we need to vet the recommendations. That’s what this process is going to do.”

Other residents and representatives of the businesses and property owners urged the council to move forward.

The president of the Downtown Manhattan Beach Business and Professionals Association, Kris D’Errico, who owns the shops Bella Beach and Bella Beach Kids with her councilmember husband, said that six businesses had closed and three had changed since the ULI was completed.

“This is what’s happening downtown,” she said. “Time is of the essence.”

She also said that the rent for Wahoo’s Fish Tacos on Manhattan Avenue had been increased from $4 per square foot to $10-11.

“That’s going to be a loss to the community, and many residents don’t even know about it,” she said.

Another reason given as to why the council should move quickly was to take advantage of the feeling of consensus among previously conflicting interests that the ULI process generated.

“From Friday morning, many people approached me and asked me to keep the momentum, even from groups that were divided,” said City Manager Mark Danaj.

Danaj also echoed the ULI panel’s recommendation to act soon and decisively.

“Time for action: prolonging these conversations creates uncertainty and inefficiency which is bad for business and the community,” the panel said in its presentation at the end of the week.

“We have an expiration on the moratorium looming,” Danaj said. “It’s not something we’re interested in renewing, sending mixed messages to the market place.”

A few of the business interests in favor of hiring the consultants also asked the council to hire an economic development director, which was another ULI recommendation. Danaj created such a position, along with three others, last October, but announced he would not fill them after public outcry over the cost.

In his motion to hire PMC, Mayor Pro Tem Mark Burton asked Danaj to add the position to next year’s budget, which will be voted on later this year.

Mayor Wayne Powell suggested not awarding the extra $59,647 that staff had requested to use in case of unforeseen costs, but rather requiring the consultants to come back before the council to get approval of its use. Burton and the rest of the council accepted his amendment. ER

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