Hawthorne not ready to green-light dense apartment building near SpaceX, Amazon

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An extremely dense apartment building proposed for a site near SpaceX’s rocket manufacturing headquarters and a new Amazon delivery hub in Hawthorne provoked passionate arguments from supporters and critics this week before city leaders sidestepped a final decision.

After residents debated the issue for an hour Tuesday night, the City Council decided to more thoroughly study the proposal before revisiting the project on Sept. 26

“Approval of this project would set a precedent which would open the door to other developers who will seek to obtain density similar to this project,” resident Andrea Santana said. “The complex would place 274 rental units on less than 3 acres of land. It would increase traffic and congestion along already congested Crenshaw Boulevard and 120th Street.”

Virginia-based Blackwood Real Estate argues that the development is a perfect example of the kind of transit-oriented housing development needed across the region. It would be on Crenshaw Boulevard between El Segundo Boulevard and 120th Street, just south of the 105 Freeway.

“This is the type of high-quality housing we’ve been waiting for,” said resident Jason Gromski. “This is resort-style living, transit-oriented, popular with young professionals. We shouldn’t be held to the sins of the past and hold ourselves down.”

‘More traffic’

The six-story apartment project would include one ground-level restaurant and a public plaza. But, among other diversions from city code, its commercial portion would be only 8 percent of the overall development rather than the 40 percent required for mixed-use developments.

“I hate to rain on the parade but I disagree with this project,” resident Leatrice Tanner Brown said. “Just consider there is going to be so much more traffic and so many more people here.”

Dubbed the Green Line Mixed-Use Project because it’s a half-mile from a Metro transit facility, the site also is walking distance to Hawthorne Municipal Airport, Target, Lowe’s, PetSmart, 9 to 5 Seating, and other commercial and industrial businesses. The rear abuts active railroad tracks and the Dominguez Channel.

“I’ve long said to members of this council that area needs some type of development and I welcome this project,” said the Rev. John Jefferson, pastor of Del Aire Baptist Church. “Our community needs a complete overhaul and makeover.”

SpaceX officials, however, said the industrial location is not suitable for housing.

“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,” said Brett Horton, SpaceX’s senior director of facilities and construction.

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Amazon is now completing its delivery hub — a warehouse and shipping facility — at Crenshaw and El Segundo boulevards.

Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, whose district includes Hawthorne, Los Angeles International Airport, and Inglewood, sent a representative to express her support at the meeting.

“At this critical moment during our regional housing crisis, I applaud your vision in moving this project forward,” Burke wrote in a letter to council members. “Being less than one-half mile from Crenshaw Line station, projects like (this) allow for less vehicle traffic and more utilization of light-rail alternative transportation.”

New standards

The city’s Planning Commission approved the plan in July on a 3-1 vote.

But Planning Director Brian James has carefully outlined its dramatic changes from existing policy — triple the amount of density allowed, smaller unit sizes and balconies, reduced parking spaces and exposure to noise and odors from nearby industry.

“There’s been talk about a transit-oriented development,” James said. “These are basically employment or housing centers within walking distance of a transit station — it’s not just housing near transit. It can be jobs or a mixture. The goal is to increase mobility.

“The question you need to ask yourselves is: Is this project an acceptable trade-off for the loss of industrial-designated lands and the economic loss those represent,” James said.

Though the routine sounds of truck traffic, overhead aircraft, and trains aren’t the most welcoming neighbors, Blackwood officials said it’s the way of the future for dense urban areas.

“The arts district in Los Angeles is probably one of the most expensive places to rent in L.A. right now,” said Blackwood representative Gilad Ganish. “It’s a cool mix of restaurants, breweries, industrial, commercial, creative and residential. This is an area very similar in characteristics.”

But former Mayor Larry Guidi said all the round-the-clock trucking operations nearby would make for a terrible place to live.

“If you had any common sense, you would know that’s an industrial zone,” Guidi told the council. “SpaceX is against it. Our mozzarella factory has no interest in it. You need to stop it. You need to end it.”

Developer perks

To sweeten the deal, Blackwood has promised to pay for at least $100,000 in public art projects along Crenshaw, near the 105 Freeway. The company also said the project would generate $400,000 in city revenue annually and $11 million over 20 years.

New residents would be offered two years of free Metro passes and Zipcar car-sharing services. The address also would be a designated pick-up and drop-off zone for ride-hailing services Lyft and Uber.

“I would not be speaking against this project if it was (houses), but these are apartments,” said resident Mario Chiappe. “The problem we have here is mainly from high-density apartments. We have 82 police in this city. So what do you expect with this development?”

Councilwoman Angie English said the proximity to industry shouldn’t be a concern.

“If people are looking at the area for a potential lease or potential living, they would make their due diligence by looking at where they’re at with regard to the rail right next to them and any other issues,” English said. “I’m sure these people would know whether or not this is a fit for them.”

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