How About Life ON Sepulveda?

By Dave Fratello | May 22nd, 2018

Maybe you've heard that old put-down: "There's no life east of Sepulveda."

In Manhattan Beach, that means, roughly: the beach is cool, and the suburbs are boring.

A third of Manhattan Beach residents live east of Sepulveda, and might resent and argue the point. But that's for another day.

Here's the emerging new question: How'd you like to live on Sepulveda itself?

Today, there are no residential addresses on Sepulveda Blvd. for the whole 2-mile stretch of Manhattan Beach.

But that could change if a new process working its way through the city gains traction. There's a public hearing Wednesday evening to discuss a major zoning change that would open the door. (Get more info on the hearing at the bottom of this post.)

One proposed zoning change would allow "mixed-use" (commercial/residential) development along Sepulveda for the first time.

Under a second change, building height calculations and roof slope rules would be changed, so that the height limit for some buildings on Sepulveda could be increased to 40 feet, from the current 30 feet. Due to the way certain rules work now, the 30-foot limit now works out to about 22 feet in reality, so the combination of changes could almost double the permissible heights of buildings on Sepulveda.

You can't say the whole package is only about mixed use, or adding residential. A working group, whose discussions through 2017 and early 2018 guided the proposed zoning change, also wanted to prioritize development of:

• hotels,

• high-end restaurants,

• museums meeting the definition of "cultural institutions," and

• community theaters.

Hotels, in particular, would need the higher building height to scale up properly for business.

All of those goals are noted in the proposed zoning change. But, as a planning commission staff report notes, "all of the uses suggested by the Working Group are already allowed within the [general commercial] zone, with the exception of mixed use development." So mixed use is the big categorical change. There is no proposal for pure residential development on Sepulveda.

The vision here is that these zoning changes could result in a renaissance along Sepulveda, where so much commercial-zoned property languishes today.

And isn't it about time for a revival like that?

There are plenty of fallow and under-utilized plots and commercial properties along Sepulveda: Single-story and/or dated office buildings, uninspired fast-food chains, dead restaurants and other decaying commercial properties. Plus the huge embarrassment that is the long-dead southeast corner at MB Blvd. and Sepulveda. (Had they built the drug store planned for the site, it might have been worse. Discuss.)

When we look at residential real estate in Manhattan Beach, every square foot of dirt is incredibly valuable. Old, undersized homes are routinely replaced in cycles of profitable development that enhance the city's housing stock.

But at several points, the Sepulveda corridor in Manhattan Beach is actually a stain on our town. Nothing is happening.

How long did the Gelson's site at 8th/Sepulveda sit unused? It's taking shape now. You can begin to sense the energy that may soon surround it.

The bottom line is staring us all in the face: Property on Sepulveda is undervalued and under-developed because investors don't see a profit or upside in it.

Zoning updates can change that. Then, one by one, a series of projects is going to need to be mapped out, assessed, debated, amended and ultimately built.

If part of that is new housing, hooray.

So, Dave, you're a local real estate broker. Could you sell homes along Sepulveda?

There's no doubt. Some units might get ocean views. Others, city/mountain views to the east or north.

Maybe most importantly, townhomes or condos along Sepulveda should be among the least pricey real estate in Manhattan Beach. (The city report promises "affordable" residential; we all know that term is relative.) If they've got the treasured ZIP code, new homes are going to move.

And it's not like we're talking about homes built right up against the road, like the dubious new townhomes in Hermosa right along PCH.

Mixed-use developments are an urban trend all over. Why not along Sepulveda in MB?

There will be worries. There will be debate.

There are questions of impacts on neighbors, views, street parking and overall neighborhood character.

All good. Have the debate. Get some real proposals moving.

It'll be better than watching Sepulveda slowly die.



Bonus Links, Facts & Thoughts

• Read the report of the 2017-18 "Sepulveda Initiatives" working group here.

• Read the new staff report and draft zoning changes here.

• The public is invited to attend the 6pm hearing on Weds., May 23. The hearing is part of the regular meeting of the city Planning Commission. See the commission's page online for a bit more, and for a link to view live, streaming video of the meeting, or archived footage afterward.

• Before you consider mixed-use plans to be radical, understand that Sepulveda was once envisioned, by our city fathers and mothers, as a residential street. According to Jan Dennis, former mayor and local city historian, one of the notable original land owners along Sepulveda, Clara Auchmoody, pushed to widen Sepulveda by surrendering 10 feet of land on her parcels (and encouraging others to do so) and helped get the road paved. But she also tried, unsuccessfully, to get housing built along the road. The idea made sense way-back-when. Put homes where people are. Choking traffic hadn't been invented yet. Now, maybe what's old is new again.

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