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City Council Unanimously Agrees To Gelson's Project

May 03, 2017 11:01PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
Following a meeting that stretched into the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the Manhattan Beach City Council unanimously voted to move forward on the hotly debated Gelson's supermarket project.

The project would transform an unused parcel (most recently an auto repair shop) at 8th and Sepulveda into a 27,400-square-foot Gelson's and a 7,000-square-foot First Republic Bank.

A long list of supporters and opponents spoke passionately about the project, with opponents' chief concerns being traffic, parking, and automobile and pedestrian safety. They claimed that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) should have been, but was not, conducted. Many project critics appealed to the city council to order an EIR.

Gelson's defenders and city staff members say that the issues have been studied extensively for more than two years, and an EIR was not legally required for the project.

During the meeting, developer Paragon's lawyer, Ellen Berkowitz, told the council that there were several misconceptions surrounding EIRs, and said conducting an EIR would add another 15 to 18 months onto the project. "It's not warranted," Berkowitz said. "It's not necessary, and it would add time to a timeline that we just don’t have."

Berkowitz also read a letter from Gelson's CEO stating that if the project was delayed with an EIR, Gelson's would see that "as a sign that Manhattan Beach does not want a Gelson's" and would go elsewhere.

During a presentation to the council, Eric Zandvliet, the city's traffic engineer, said that the project would result in a likely doubling of the amount of traffic on Larsson, a residential street behind the site, as well as increases in traffic on 8th Street and 6th Street, on either side of the proposed market. 

Nevertheless, Zandvliet noted that with 135 parking spaces, it was "not anticipated" that parking would spill over into the streets. Employees would be prohibited from parking on the street, he said. 

The traffic engineer also added that the situation would be kept under close scrutiny. "If it’s not working, we change the plan and make it work. There are penalties and corrective measures," Zandvliet said.

Paragon Principal Jim Dillavou gave a presentation to the council in which he outlined additional measures aimed at ameliorating the problem, including a valet service for one year, $20,000 to the city to study traffic "calming" measures, prohibiting delivery trucks on residential streets, and prohibiting deliveries after 6:00 p.m.

Additionally, he said, the store would enclose the trash compactor motor, screen over rooftop equipment, prohibit truck idling in the loading area, and remove the existing oleander from the rear of the property and replace it with plantings that would create more of a partition between residential homes and the Gelson's property. 

The hearing included statements from more than 40 residents, with more than half in opposition to the proposal, including residents of the immediate neighborhood and residents on the East Manhattan Beach side of Sepulveda.

Kathy Fisher, co-owner of GROW, reminded the council that GROW and other local small businesses were concerned about a variance granted to Gelson's allowing fewer spaces than the required number of parking spaces for the square footage. 

"We are requesting that the project be built to code, and not to give them an advantage over existing businesses," Fisher said.

Fisher quoted one excerpt from the Downtown Specific Plan, which seeks to "support and encourage small business throughout the city.”

"These businesses are now asking for your support," she said.

City Council members noted that the property was zoned for commercial use, and if Gelson's did not go in, it is unclear what would happen to the now-vacant spot.

Following today's City Council agreement on the Gelson's project, staff will draft a formal resolution to be adopted at a meeting in June.

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