Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Daily Breeze: Are housing projects crowding Torrance?

One of the issues I've been harping about on this blog for the past 2 years is the building of the high-density, sardine-can style housing we've seen in places like Centex Fusion, Village on Oak, and 360 at South Bay. People's perceptions of what makes good value in housing will change as social mood changes.

The November 14 Daily Breeze story by Nick Green appears to be a definite example of these changes happening. The story is about the increased gridlock that Village on Oak has brought to the Carson-Crenshaw area of Torrance. It was blatantly obvious to me 2 years ago when there was nothing but a hole in the ground on Oak Street that traffic would get unbearably dense, but somehow the politicians who approved the project just didn't see it that way. Now at least one politician regrets his approval on the project.

The sad thing is that of the 3 major high-density projects I've looked at, either in visiting or passing by - Centex Fusion, Standard Pacific's Village on Oak, and William Lyon's 360 at South Bay - the Village on Oak strikes me as the nicest looking - the least bad of the the three.

You can see some old photos of Village on Oak (and Parkview) under construction by querying this blog with "Oak".

The link may expire, so the story is reproduced here.

Today is Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Originally published Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Updated Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Are housing projects crowding Torrance?
Locals fear that high-density residential units may bring even more traffic congestion to an already busy area.
By Nick Green
Staff Writer

An imposing 3 1/2 story edifice containing 59 pastel-colored condominiums aimed at 
seniors called Parkview Court is rising on just 1.15 acres in Torrance at the corner 
of Oak and Jefferson streets.

Immediately next door on Jefferson, a crane looms over the wood frames of what city 
officials describe as one of the densest developments in the city in the past decade. 
Named The Foundry Lofts, the project will boast 86 four-story condominiums on just 
1.9 acres.

And next door on Oak, residents already are moving into the largest of the trio of 
housing developments that occupies a 13-acre site.

The Village on Oak is a 198-unit town house project that also has a second phase of 
33 town houses that will be built next year on the present site of the Rolling Hills 
Prep Gym.

The 376 homes jammed into just over more than 16 acres of former industrial land 
opposite Wilson Park is unusually dense by Torrance standards, generating calls to 
the city from startled residents as construction progresses.

Todd Hayes, co-president of the Old Torrance Neighborhood Association, describes the 
development as the “poster child” for precisely the type of housing subdivisions many 
residents don’t want to see.

“I think, like most people, it just seems like a big development behemoth,” he said.

“It may be it got out of control,” he added. “What started as a ‘let’s clean up the 
neighborhood’ idea morphed into what we’ve been railing against ever since.”

The first 276 homes were approved in 2003, years before political sentiment turned 
against rezoning industrial and commercial land for housing. The remainder were added 
two years later when the scope of the project was enlarged.

Four years ago, city officials were eager to embrace transforming an eyesore of heavy 
manufacturing plants into tidy suburbia.

“This area is really ripe for transition,” Councilwoman Hope Witkowsky said when the 
City Council approved the project in October 2003. “I think this sleepy little area 
lends itself to this kind of project.”

Except that critics point out there’s nothing “sleepy” about the neighborhood. The 
park and its array of recreational facilities across Jefferson is one of Torrance’s 
busiest, home to the annual Independence Day celebration that leaves vehicles parked 
on streets for blocks in every direction.

In addition, thousands of shoppers come to the farmers market on Tuesdays and 
Saturdays, jamming surrounding streets with cars, especially on weekends.

Across Oak Street is Torrance First Presbyterian Church, a so-called megachurch that 
is one of the South Bay’s largest, where more than 5,000 worshippers attend Sunday 

And the almost 400 homes are being plopped down into an area with limited vehicle 

Jefferson dead-ends at Wilson Park, although it’s possible to weave through the 
park’s parking lot to reach Plaza del Amo.

There is no traffic signal where Oak intersects with busy Carson Street, a major 
commuter artery that makes left turns from Oak virtually impossible.

And the signal at Jefferson and Crenshaw Boulevard, a few yards from another traffic 
light where Plaza del Amo meets Crenshaw, is a notoriously familiar bottleneck to 
Torrance motorists.

“You’ve just created a nightmare — and they’re still building,” said Councilman Bill 
Sutherland, who was elected last year on a platform of stopping what he perceived as 
rampant residential construction.

“There’s only two ways in and out (of the area),” he added. “That’s going to be the 
biggest downfall.”

So dense are The Foundry Lofts, the crane is needed to move materials around because 
of the lack of space on the building site. That’s a common sight in densely populated 
Europe, but not so in the U.S.

The development of 86 one-and-two bedroom condominiums is “more urban, something 
you’d see in the city,” conceded an employee with developer Standard Pacific, who 
asked not to be identified in accordance with company policy.

While those 86 units are crammed onto a lot of under two acres, the entire tract 
averages out to 23.5 units to the acre.

“It isn’t as dense as people think it is,” said former Torrance Councilman Don Lee, 
who served as a consultant on the project and was elected to the Torrance school 
board last week.

Still, for some, the trio of housing developments is too much for suburban Torrance.

“It’s not too dense for everywhere; it’s too dense for Torrance,” Sutherland said. 
“We want single-family homes.”

Of course, not everyone can afford a single-family home in a city where the median 
price of one is north of more than $675,000, according to Altos Research, which 
provides analyses of real estate markets.

“The density and the three-story height is the reason we can offer prices in the 
$300,000 range,” said John Mavar, project manager for West Millennium Homes’ Parkview 

About one-third of the one-bedroom homes for seniors that start at $319,000 are 
already reserved, he said.

Prices are not yet set for The Foundry Lofts and sales won’t start until next year.

Prices of the town homes at The Village on Oak start at $547,000. “Price was a big 
selling point,” said Greg Wong, 35, a graphic designer who recently moved into a 
two-bedroom condo in the subdivision. “It didn’t really click it was going to be so 

Wong, who grew up in Rolling Hills, said he likes his new home, but is already 
experiencing problems critics say will only get worse as more residents move in.

Traffic congestion on Saturday and Sunday morning is severe.

It’s a good thing he customarily turns right onto Carson Street to head to the 
freeway because turning left is “ugly,” Wong said.

And guest parking is extremely limited.

With six homes sharing a common driveway inside the development, neighborly relations 
are a must, he said.

“I’ve met almost everybody,” Wong said. “You have to get along with everybody. It’s 
almost mandatory.”

Wong’s neighbor, Mike Martinet, 60, moved with his wife to the development from an 
older condo they owned in the Hollywood Riviera section of Torrance.

He, too, simply accepts the density as an inescapable reality.

“Everything is dense, but it’s well-planned,” he said. “It’s the wave of the future. 
There is no land left, especially in densely populated areas like the South Bay.”

Still, he also wonders what the traffic will be like in the area once the development 
is fully occupied.

But some residents — especially in the senior project — will undoubtedly be like the 
75-year-old mother of Torrance resident Esther Kimm.

“It’s very convenient for my mom because her church is right next door and the 
farmers market is right there,” Kimm said. “She doesn’t have a car and those are the 
two places she goes to the most.”

Sean Doyle, project manager of The Village on Oak, said many of the buyers are from 
the South Bay, where smaller, new homes are difficult to find. Mavar agreed.

“I’m finding most (buyers) are local residents who have been watching the 
construction as it progressed,” he said. “I’m specifically looking at empty nesters 

Former Councilman Mike Mauno originally voted against approving the residential 
development, but not because of its density. He didn’t like the proximity to 
industrial uses.

By the time that was removed in 2005 and the 86 units of The Foundry Lofts and the 
second phase of The Village on Oak was added, he voted in favor of it.

“There’s a big need for senior units,” he said. “Many parents, like my father, now 
are empty nesters and they have these three- and four-bedroom homes and they’d like 
to stay in the area.”

Like Mauno, Mayor Frank Scotto also changed his vote on the project — but in the 
opposite direction.

In 2003, he voted in favor of the residential development. Two years later, as the 
project grew — and the mayoral campaign neared — he switched his vote to a no.

“It’s one of those ones you wish you had back or wish you could do over again,” he 
said. “(Initially,) it seemed like it was a good project. The second time around it 
was obvious it was too large. … The end result is, it’s going to create an enormous 
amount of traffic.”
USER COMMENTS ( 5 of 38 total | view all )

"This is ridiculous"
I always avoid driving on Crenshaw between Sepulveda and Carson on Farmer's Market 
days because of the gridlock. Once these condos on Jefferson and Oak are at capacity, 
you can expect the gridlock to be a daily occurence. It seems to me as an East 
Torrance resident, that certain parts of Torrance are excessively over-developed. My 
parents live in the Southwood area and their neighborhood succesfully prevented 
condos from going up behind the Union Bank buliding. It seems like the city council 
values some residents of Torrance more than others.
posted: Wednesday, November 14th at 17:11 PM


posted: Wednesday, November 14th at 16:40 PM

"Passing Blame"
So easy to blame the past officials. Lets stand up and be counted. Lets vote on a new 
General Plan that reflects the wishes of the voters in the last election. We have new 
people in office..lets see if they follow through with campaign promises..and the 
clock is ticking.....Frankie
- Frankie Lane
posted: Wednesday, November 14th at 16:35 PM

"love all the comments"
torrance is looking pretty shabby and a cramped sardine can.. i agree with the word 
posted: Wednesday, November 14th at 15:52 PM

"How are the schools affected?"
What about the impact this over development is going to have on Torrance schools! Our 
schools where not zone to hold so many people. They are old and in need of repair 
already. Just think of the impact the over population will have on the old school 
buildings. The traffic around Wilson park is already insane on weekends - sometimes 
it takes 30 minutes to get down Crenshaw from Torrance Blvd. to Lomita Blvd. on a 
Saturday. This overpopulation will ruin Torrance's appeal and the property values 
will go down...way down.
- Torrance Mom
posted: Wednesday, November 14th at 15:37 PM


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