DEVELOPMENT – Four appeals filed against Project Verandas

Project Verandas, a 79-unit apartment complex, has been approved by the City of Manhattan Beach. Rendering courtesy Project Verandas

by Mark McDermott 

Four appeals have been filed contesting the administrative approval of Project Verandas, a 79-unit, four-story apartment complex proposed for Rosecrans and Highland avenues. The appeals will be considered by the Planning Commission on June 8, at 3 p.m.

Developer Frank Buckley said he and his team will listen carefully to what the community has to say. 

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised,” Buckley said. “This is the typical process, and as a practical matter allows for some public discourse, which can be helpful.” 

The project’s plan was deemed complete and publicly noticed in early January. Community Development Director Carrie Tai issued an approval on March 29. Unlike most projects of this scope, Project Verandas was only initially subject to administrative approval. The project includes six low-income units, making it eligible for a non-discretionary, streamlined administrative review under the state’s housing density bonus laws. 

The project proposal, Tai wrote in her approval, “includes the demolition of existing structures and the construction of a new, 96,217 square-foot, four-story, multi-family residential structure, 37 to 50-feet in height, containing 79 rental dwelling units, six of which will be set aside for ‘very low income’ households.” The project also includes an attached, 127-car, subterranean garage.

 Tai also noted that state laws dictate the project be approved without the usual “discretionary” review by the Planning Commission, which typically has discretion in rejecting or amending projects. 

The project has faced opposition since it was publicly noticed, including a petition that has collected over 3,000 signatures, and opposing testimony during public comment at City Council meetings. The appeals follow these critiques, essentially arguing that Project Verandas —  so named because it replaces the event facility, Verandas, as well as an adjacent commercial building —  does not fit the neighborhood, and will cause traffic and parking problems. A traffic study commissioned by the developer and peer-reviewed by the City’s traffic engineer, however, concluded the project would actually have less traffic, and parking impacts than what currently exists on the site. 

Don McPherson, in his appeal, questioned whether the City had followed the correct protocol under the California Environmental Quality Act, and made an alternative proposal for the City to meet the shortfall it currently faces under state law regarding affordable housing. He proposed affordable housing at the Manhattan Village Mall. 

“It will take nearly 70 four-story projects like Highrose to eliminate the existing 406-unit shortfall from the affordable-housing quota assigned to the city by the state, in a program that lacks an [Environmental Impact Report,” McPherson wrote.

Richard MacKenzie, filing an appeal on behalf of a group of residents, likewise questioned how the project could not face scrutiny under CEQA, despite its eligibility for a streamlined process. He said the lower parking requirements, 127 versus the 176 required in a normal approval process, would “dump 50 cars into an already overcrowded environment.” He urged the City to exercise leadership in the face of state laws that would damage the community. 

“We all believe strongly in the need for improvements in affordable housing,” MacKenzie wrote. “We believe, however, that the approved project is merely a fig leaf on this issue, an excuse for a high-density development that does little to move the needle on our city’s housing issues and merely kicks the can down the road for later, compromised planning…if this ruling is allowed to stand, Manhattan Beach will become a city of high rise apartments for the rich, with little attention to environmental regulations, traffic impact, and quality of life.” 

Resident George Bordokas echoed these concerns in his appeal and likewise urged the City to not comply with state law. 

“The City has building codes for a reason, to protect its citizens, and the character of the community…Is your department simply a rubber stamp for the developers and the state?” he wrote. 

Resident Andrew Ryan’s appeal focused on public health. Ryan, who owns the commercial building next door to the development, said the excavation required to build a subterranean parking garage will create instability for his property and risk contaminating groundwater due to the nearby Chevron refinery. 

“The [Verandas] Project plans to excavate two stories down for a parking garage, and likely dig much further down for support structures and foundations,” Ryan wrote. “Such an excavation will cause the drainage of the groundwater with the ‘floating petroleum’ to end up in the City’s storm drain system, and ultimately the beaches and ocean. The ‘floating petroleum’ groundwater could also intrude into nearby properties and also create a threat to public health.” 

Buckley, in a previous interview, took pains to elaborate on how the proposed development actually reduces traffic and parking problems in the neighborhood. The traffic study he commissioned indicated that the existing 931 daily trips would be reduced to 578. The development, Buckley said, actually exceeds the 103 spots required by state law, but also replaces two buildings, Tradewinds and Verandas, that currently do not have enough parking for their uses. 

“You are taking two buildings that are currently under-parked, and utilizing the Chevron parking lot, and the City parking lot for parking,” he said. “By redeveloping this underutilized parcel, you are able to free up north of 200 spaces that are currently being used by existing commercial uses.” 

Buckley said that of all the projects that could have been sited at the location, Project Verandas will have a relatively low impact. He also rejected the notion that he was taking advantage of the state density bonus laws 

“Verandas, unfortunately, didn’t survive the pandemic and no longer operates there, but to the extent that a food and beverage operation did operate there, or to the extent that someone built this site out to its allowable density pursuant to the zoning code, you could have a larger residential project there,” Buckley said. “You could have any number of commercial developments there that could range from medical offices to mixed-use retail commercial. You could have a larger residential project there. We have not taken advantage of the most recently amended state density bonus laws that would allow for an even greater density than what we’re proposing. We did that by design, as we wanted to be thoughtful to the scale and thoughtful to traffic and parking. And so we essentially took advantage of what we needed to both work with the city and satisfy some of their housing goals and at the same time, make the budget feasible.” 


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