By Ashley Orona
SOUTH GATE — The City Council has rejected a developer’s application to waive certain building requirements for a housing project following community concerns raised at a meeting Oct. 13 over its affordability and environmental impacts.
The City Council voted 3-2 to reject a request from Gonzales-Goodale Architects and Newport Ventures to waive private open space, building frontage and outdoor recycling requirements for the Legacy Apartments project, a 78-unit development at 10130 Adella Ave.
Residents and city officials were afraid that even the affordable units would be priced out of reach for local residents in a community where low-income two-bedroom apartments were expected to be priced at almost $1,800 a month and where the median income is only $50,000 per household. People were also concerned about the project’s environmental impact.
The South Gate Planning Commission originally approved the Legacy Apartment development with the three waivers, which are permitted under the city’s affordable housing density bonus ordinance, and required a set-aside of 5% or around four of the proposed units as very-low income to low-income affordable housing under a 55-year covenant.
The City Council chose instead to require the developers to set aside 10-15 units in their project for low-income renters and to incorporate private open space, such as balconies, into 39 of the units, during its Sept. 8 meeting. The developers initially agreed to increase their affordable set-asides from four to 12 units, but argued on Oct. 13 that it would be financially unfeasible for them to incorporate more open space. They asked for a waiver to contribute more community open space instead, as well as to make improvements to street frontage and provide indoor trash and recycling facilities.
Without those waivers, it is an open question as to whether the developers will continue to incorporate affordable housing into the project.
City Council members and residents questioned whether community members could even afford the proposed low-income units were they to go forward.
“Unfortunately, $1,900 is way over budget for our typical family here in South Gate so we’re not solving any of the housing issues with your development,” said resident Robert Montalvo during public comment.
Units valued at market rate are expected to cost $1,958 for a one-bedroom unit and $2,300 for a two-bedroom. Units reserved for “low-income” are expected to cost $1,469 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,777 for a two-bedroom, according to the applicants’ representative, Dave Mossman of Newport Ventures. The median household income for South Gate residents is $50,246 and average household size is four people, according to Census data.
Residents also cited concerns that once the developer begins excavating the land, fumes in the soil from when the site was in industrial use will be released into the water and atmosphere, harming residents and students’ health. South Gate already faces negative environmental impacts from nearby freeways, oil refineries and other industrial businesses.
Alex Campbell, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s project manager, expressed concern about the construction site’s proximity to the International Studies Learning Center and Legacy High School.
“Given the time that it’ll take to construct this project, the likelihood that students will be in session while construction is taking place is very likely and based on the proximity we have some concerns with potential environmental impacts to the schools and surrounding communities” he said.
Applicant Dave Mossman said during his presentation that the developers are working with an environmental consultant to determine how to mitigate those impacts and to ensure that the land is cleaned up before construction starts.
The developer and city officials emphasized that the project fits city zoning requirements and that without the affordable housing waiver, it could go forward with any income-restricted units.
“This developer has met the obligations that were previously set forth through a public process previously adopted by the Council,” City Manager Michael Flad said. “By right, this developer can build the 78 units with this height and this density with this parking and require no discretionary action by the council.”
Councilman Gil Hurtado agreed with residents’ concerns about the project. He suggested that it may be time to make changes to housing policies in South Gate’s general plan to prevent future developments that are not suitable for the community.
“I think this is the spark that we needed in order to consider making changes to the general plan because I agree with everyone speaking here about [the lack of] affordable housing [in this development],” he said.
Ashley Orona is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the East Los Angeles area. She can be reached at Oronash@gmail.com.