Hawthorne approves dense apartment building, rejects appeals from SpaceX and Amazon – Daily Breeze

A hotly divided Hawthorne City Council traded accusations of corruption, conflict and collusion Tuesday night before approving a dense apartment building that will share a corner with SpaceX, an Amazon delivery hub and other industry, despite strong opposition from those companies.

The council voted 3-2 to allow Blackwood Real Estate to erect 230 small apartments on Crenshaw Boulevard at Jack Northrop Avenue. The six-story project will occupy a rectangular 2.5-acre lot that will also include a restaurant and walking paths.

The so-called “Green Line” development, which needed waivers from the city because it violates several zoning restrictions, was sold as a modern, transit-oriented project by virtue of its location one-half mile from a Green Line station.

City Council supporters — Angie English, Haidar Awad and Olivia Valentine — also refused to allow a second public comment period to hear from representatives from Amazon, SpaceX and the railroad that runs directly behind the property who wanted to speak in opposition.

Mayor Alex Vargas and Councilman Nilo Michelin strongly opposed the development, and the city’s planning director raised several concerns about its incompatibility with city land uses. The project provides fewer parking spaces than the city normally requires, and apartments are smaller than Municipal Code allows. Residents there also will be subject to noise and emissions from the 24-hour industrial operations next to them.

“For me, change is not more apartments. It’s more aerospace companies,” Michelin said. “I was not elected to passively defend developers. We don’t need more apartments.”

Before the vote, council members accused one another of corruption.

Vargas said English’s proposal in September to reduce the apartment density from 274 units to 230 units was suspicious.

“Why are some council members entering into unilateral negotiations with the developer?” Vargas said. “We were prohibited from talking to the developer. Who chose that 230 number? Why not 150? Why not 80?”

English shot back: “Since (Vargas) put it out there, there’s a lot to be said. There’s also been collusion on his part. I want to know from the planning director how many times the mayor has been in contact with you. The bull has to stop.”

English also accused the nonprofit Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. of unethical behavior for opposing the deal.

“There’s a conflict with LAEDC and SpaceX,” she said. “SpaceX is a member of LAEDC, so of course they would be here to benefit SpaceX. They’re colluding to make efforts to trash this project.”

Valentine also said she believes it’s “very suspicious” that SpaceX and the LAEDC were in opposition because “this (apartment building) will make the area attractive for commercial development.”

Lilian Haney, community relations manager at SpaceX, asked the council to reopen a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, saying the rocket maker is concerned about the safety of homes so close to its headquarters.

“We do not think this project proposed is correct for this space,” Haney said.

Judy Kruger, a director at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., said the city should declare the area an aerospace park rather than building housing in an industrial area.

“Industrial land is employment land, and a critical factor in growing an industry such as aerospace,” Kruger said. “Jobs in industrial parks support high-paying jobs. Industrial land availability rates around the region are only at 1 or 2 percent and we don’t need to lose any more industrial property.”

But supporters said Blackwood’s project is the kind of modern, forward-thinking development that Hawthorne needs.

Kyle Orlemann, vice chairwoman of the city’s veterans affairs commission, said she would like to move to a place like the Green Line project when she gets older.

“The city is changing and, yes, we have a lot of rental units here,” Orlemann said. However, we have a lot of traffic. The city is going to be a model where people live near where they work. (Renters there) can certainly walk to Lowe’s and that development and take cars off the street. Using public transportation is the way of the future.”

Dense apartment buildings are a particularly sore issue in the city because, in the 1970s and ’80s, developers concentrated such projects in the crime-ridden Moneta Gardens neighborhood.

“We do have a lot of apartments,” said Alex Monteiro, a principal of Moneta Gardens Improvement Inc. “We have 70 percent renters. We need more homes and condominiums for sale, not for rent.”

Resident Andrea Santana accused Awad of having a conflict of interest because his father, who operates a used-car dealership and financing business, owns undeveloped land in the city. She has previously brought up concerns about whether the Blackwood deal will open the door to similar lucrative deals involving dense  apartment buildings.

Awad responded that he will make his personal finances public.

“I am clean,” Awad said. “When you’re clean, you have no fear of what’s in the shadows.”

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



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.”

Dense 6-story apartment building adjacent SpaceX in Hawthorne gets initial OK



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.”

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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.

‘High-density rentals’

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.”

New SpaceX-adjacent dense apartment development in Hawthorne up for initial approval



A dense mixed-use project that could provide hundreds of housing units for employees of SpaceX on a lot near the Hawthorne rocket manufacturing plant will be considered Wednesday night by the city Planning Commission.

Planning commissioners will accept public comment on the Blackwood Real Estate bid to erect 305 apartments and a restaurant on a 2.5-acre lot when the hearing starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 4455 W. 126th St.

City leaders haven’t endorsed the densely packed development on the southeast corner of Jack Northrop Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard. The plan, which mostly calls for studio and one-bedroom apartments but includes a few dozen two-bedroom units, was sent to the Planning Commission without a recommendation to either approve or deny.

The six-level project, not far from a Metro Green Line park-and-ride facility, would share a corner with a liquor store, two gas stations and a small retail strip.

SpaceX’s director of construction and real estate, Bruce A. McHugh, said the fast-growing rocket builder could use new local accommodations.

“SpaceX supports Blackwood’s development project,” McHugh wrote in a letter to the city. “The benefits for SpaceX would be corporate housing, housing for our interns and employees, along with possible added amenities of a gym and a restaurant.”

But packing that many apartments in such a small area could pose a challenge for a city already contending with traffic and parking problems.

Blackwood, however, completed an environmental study of the potential impacts and has proposed mitigations. The company plans to build 450 parking spaces, in addition to the project’s proximity to public transit.

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas also threw his support to Blackwood.

“I feel this project is the type of forward-thinking effort that will strongly benefit the residents and businesses of the city of Hawthorne,” Ridley-Thomas wrote in a letter to the city. “The project’s proximity to the Metro Green Line will further strengthen the expanding regional transportation network, while also increasing the supply of quality housing to serve the growing workforce in the tech, health care, bioscience and aerospace industries.”