The Hawthorne Planning Commission has approved a six-story apartment building that would pack about 300 small apartments on less than 3 acres in a booming industrial area near the municipal airport.
The proposal flies in the face of zoning codes, placing hundreds of homes in the midst of heavy industrial operations. But the developer said its modern accommodations and proximity to public transit make sense for the region, and would be convenient for thousands of nearby workers.
The City Council will decide next month whether to move forward with Blackwood Real Estate’s request to override city zoning codes to erect the building at Crenshaw Boulevard and Jack Northrop Avenue, across the street from the SpaceX rocket manufacturing plant.
Planning Commissioner Mike Talleda, the lone dissenting vote Wednesday, said it’s too risky for a city already beset by parking and traffic problems. Commissioners approved the project on a 3-1 vote, with Commissioner Pat Carey abstaining because he has a business in the area.
“It’s such a big project to put on such a small lot,” Talleda said. “Honestly, I don’t see it as a project that we need. And every building we have has an issue with parking. I don’t care how beautifully they present the case, there’s always a parking problem. If and when they do rebuild the (vacant Hawthorne Plaza) mall, that will do more to satisfy housing need.”
‘Resort-style, high-amenity living’
Residents packed City Hall with strong feelings both for and against the development. Many complained that traffic is already congested, and parking near impossible, in the area.
Others said it’s just what the city needs.
“I think this is the best thing that could ever happen to our city,” Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce President Pat Donaldson said. “I have spoken to over 700 employees at SpaceX who are ready to move in as soon as the project is complete. Over 230 businesses on Crenshaw, El Segundo, and Jack Northrop — and 127 residents in Holly Park — are in agreement and very happy to see this in our city.”
Directly to the north of SpaceX is Hawthorne Municipal Airport and commercial shopping areas.
SpaceX officials expressed early interest in the project in 2015, but have since pulled their support.
“Since (2015), we have significantly expanded our industrial manufacturing footprint immediately adjacent to this site,” said Brett Horton, SpaceX’s senior director of facilities and construction. “While we do believe there is an absolute need for affordable housing in the city of Hawthorne, we do not think that this specific site is the place for it.”
Just south of the location, an Amazon Fulfillment Center is preparing to open inside a cavernous 170,000-square-foot warehouse on Crenshaw and El Segundo boulevards. The facility will have a 24-hour truck-shipping operation and 55 loading bays.
But Blackwood Real Estate representative Michael Jenkins said the housing project fits well into the fabric of the city.
The development would cater to “Hawthorne residents who are looking for move-up, resort-style, high-amenity living (and) executives who want to take advantage of the proximity to the airport,” Jenkins said. “Just at SpaceX alone, at least 1,500 people would want to live right across the street from where they work.”
Planners have concerns
Planning Director Brian James described a litany of problems with the development on Wednesday night.
“They want to change the land use to accommodate a project that allows unique standards that would result in a project that’s not currently allowed,” James said. “They also want to write their own zoning code for this property, with unique standards for density, parking, unit sizes and height.”
James also pointing to worries about limited parking, excessive industrial noise that could annoy residents, and an adjacent railroad. He also said it would set a precedent for this type of development, allowing others to do the same throughout the city.
Blackwood officials want to provide 450 parking spots for a project that the city would require about 750 spaces.
Reuben Sanchez, president of the North Hawthorne Community Association, said he was asked for support from Blackwood officials, and offered a donation, but refused.
“Let’s be truthful about this project — this is high-density rentals,” Sanchez said. “We don’t want any high-density rentals. We have empty, beautiful condos that could be rented by SpaceX workers, and beautiful other areas where they could purchase as well.”
But Planning Commissioner Rula Alshanableh said she loves the concept.
“I feel that it’s a beautiful design that’s going to attract a lot of young professionals,” Alshanableh said. “They don’t want the commitment of having to buy. Millennials are the future, and they are environmentally correct. My son doesn’t want to buy a car. They want to be using something that’s more green. So I think it would be a great addition to the city.”