HOUSING CRISIS Highrose development meets opposition [UPdated]

The proposed Highrose project on Highland and Rosecrans.

by Mark McDermott 

A proposed four-story, 79-unit residential development at the Veranda’s site on Rosecrans has met resident opposition, but could be approved administratively, in accordance with state law intended to encourage new housing. 

The Highrose project was submitted to the City of Manhattan Beach community development department, which sent out notices to those within 100 feet of the project in early January. Under state laws intended to encourage multi-family dwellings in order to address a state housing shortage, the project is eligible for a streamlined approval process. Community Development director Carrie Tai is expected to issue a ruling in the next few weeks. Any member of the public can then appeal that ruling to the Planning Commission, and if two members of the City Council request it, the project could be subject to council review. 

An appeal seems overwhelmingly likely. The City has received voluminous public feedback, mostly against the project. A Change.org petition opposing the Highrose project has collected almost 2,800 signatures. 

“This is a disaster in every sense of the word,” said resident Dan Finerly, in remarks to the Council on January 18. “Just imagine a four-story campus where Veranda currently is —  it will be a complete blight on our community and have multiple adverse impacts…. I haven’t spoken to one resident who thinks this is a good idea, besides the residents who are behind this…[who are] very financially motivated residents. They live among us, but don’t seem to care about our town.” 

“El Porto cannot handle any traffic increase,” said Jeremy Shelton. “I mean, can you imagine having another 150 to 200 cars clogging up that artery heading north?” 

A few residents have expressed support for the project. 

“I am grateful for the opportunity for my kids to be able to afford to live in the town they were raised in,” wrote Elise Johnson in an email to the City. “COVID has had a severe impact on our adult kids’ upward mobility. ‘The economy’ may be doing well, but their generation is taking a huge financial hit. Our 20-something kids will likely fall into the ‘low income’ or ‘very low income’ category, per [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development].” 

The project includes six units designated for “very low income” residents. HUD calculates median family income by region, which locally includes the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale area, and then defines “very low income” for that region. For fiscal year 2021, HUD has calculated that the median family income locally to be $80,000, with the “very low income” determined to be $59,100 for a family of four, or $41,400 for an individual. 

It is because of this affordable housing component that the project qualifies for the State Density Bonus Law, which not only streamlines the approval process but exempts it from the lengthy and costly California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA] review as well as local development standards governing height and setbacks. 

Tai told the Council on January 18 that the grounds on which the project can be curtailed are limited. 

“These reviews are completely objective, and that ties back to the ministerial review, which means the staff can only look at specific development standards, namely height and setbacks,” Tai said. “There’s also a series of waivers and concessions that developers are eligible for. Basically, if they can demonstrate that it facilitates the development of that project with the density bonus and affordable housing, the City must grant that.” 

The developer has requested waivers for the maximum buildable floor area (BFA), the maximum number of stories, maximum height, and a setback waiver for portions of the structure with walls greater than 24 feet in height. Were it not for the Density Bonus, a total of 51 units and 74,033 sq. ft. would be allowable at the site. 

Highrose would require the demolition of both Verandas, an event facility tucked below the Chevron tank farms on Rosecrans Avenue, as well Tradewinds Village, a commercial building facing Highland Boulevard. The 96,217 sq. ft. project would merge the two parcels and include, other than the six low income units, market-rate housing, including 21 studio apartments, 11 one-bedroom apartments, 40 two-bedroom apartments, and seven three-bedroom apartments. The units range from 512 sq. ft. to 1,727 sq. ft. The project includes two subterranean floors with 127 parking spaces, more than the Density Bonus law requires —  103 spaces —  but less than the 176 spaces that would typically be required of a 79 unit building. 

For several years, the Veranda site was under consideration as a possible boutique hotel location. But it’s not hard to see Marlin’s logic in developing residential housing. Under a state guidelines known as Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), Manhattan Beach is required to add 774 new units by 2029 (including 334 very low income units) and there are few areas in the city —  bordering the industrial area at Chevron and near a major thoroughfare —  where such a development would not meet even more opposition. 

Councilperson Richard Montgomery said he has received 500 emails regarding the project already, and estimates that three-quarters of those are in opposition. 

​​“Not everybody is against it,” Montgomery said. “Some people say, ‘I want apartments in the city for my son, who is making six figures but can’t afford a house here, but he can afford a luxury apartment. I’d love to see my son and his children here,’” Montgomery said. “Why would council be against more housing if we need more housing?” 

What Montgomery is against is state law dictating the City’s zoning. Montgomery has signed on in support of Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand’s Community Zoning initiative, which would block the state from imposing most kinds of zoning requirements on cities and counties. Brand and his allies have until April to collect the 1.5 million signatures needed to qualify the initiative for the November statewide ballot. At this week’s City Council meeting, Montgomery also placed an item on a future agenda in support of joining the City of Redondo Beach’s lawsuit against recent state legislation that essentially eliminates single-family zoning. 

“I want cities to get local control back, and this project is a prime example of why we need local control back,” Montgomery said. “Would I rather see a hotel come up at that site? Absolutely, for many different reasons. But here we are. Now we’ll see what happens.” 

Brand called the Highrose project “Exhibit A” for why his Community Zoning initiative is necessary. 

“It’s just another example of the state ripping community control of what happens in their own town,” Brand said. “I don’t blame the developer; it’s just what they do. But it’s completely lopsided —  add six affordable units, and go up another story, 50 feet or whatever, and avoid all local zoning requirements and even CEQA. Under our initiative, the state would not be able to mandate zoning on projects like this. It’s exactly why we need to get this on the November ballot, so local communities have control over what is being developed in their communities.” ER 


The original post of this story mistakenly reported that the development is a Marlin Equity project. Marlin Equity is not involved in the project. Easy Reader apologizes for the error.



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