By Bari Cohn
Three of five Manhattan Beach City Council planning commissioners voted on the construction of Gelson’s supermarket with a two-to-one approval at their Wednesday meeting after a two-year battle between residents and Gelson’s architectural firm Paragon Commercial Group.
Gelson’s, a 28,000 square foot supermarket, is scheduled to be built on the southwest corner of Sepulveda Boulevard and Eighth Street in Manhattan Beach. Paragon expects to begin construction this summer, which will last for nine months.
“I believe that there are valid concerns,” Planning Commissioner Penny Bordokas said. “Fear is what is preventing us from driving forward and creating a solution to make everyone happy, but we can get over [these fears].”
The final vote for approval will take place at City Council’s April 4 meeting. Following that meeting, there will be a 20-day appeal period. If appealed, the city will host a public hearing and the appeal will be reviewed by the City Council, co-founder and principal of Paragon Jim Dillavou said. Commissioner George Apostol excused himself from the vote due to conflict of interest, while Nancy Hersman excused herself due to her recent election to City Council, Bordokas said.
“We’re fighting this all the way through because we feel that safety is our priority,” said Dennis May, a city resident and member of Manhattan Beach Residents for Responsible Development, a group that goes by the slogan, “Stop Gelson’s.” “We are going to fight it all the way through.”
Approval of the project came with six conditions, all of which Paragon stated it will be open to incorporating into its final plans, Dillavou said. The six conditions include the construction of three additional crosswalks; an extended sidewalk by three feet on Sepulveda; bike racks closer to Eighth Street, and a class-two bike lane from Eighth to Larsson Street.
“The conditions set in place by the commissioners are great conditions,” Dillavou said. “We are doing anything we can do to make this project more pedestrian-friendly. [This] is something that absolutely should be done, so we love these conditions, and they should have been part of the original plans since day one.”
Before the commission members’ decision, 29 Manhattan Beach residents voiced their opinions both for and against Gelson’s at the meeting. Some reservations were raised regarding the possibility of increased traffic and a lack of proper planning behind the project, such as limited parking and a lack of a sufficient deceleration lane. Others claimed that since Gelson’s serves alcohol to shoppers, drunk driving may pose a threat to the surrounding residential areas.
“There is going to be a tremendous amount of traffic, which will turn these residential streets into commercial corridors,” May said. “The streets here typically don’t have sidewalks. I guarantee [the construction of Gelson’s] will create accidents.”
At the meeting, Gelson’s representatives stated that shoppers are not allowed to drink while actually shopping, and that the supermarket follows strict guidelines with its alcohol distribution. In regard to residents’ traffic and safety concerns, Dillavou believes that by promising to follow all of the city’s construction guidelines, Gelson’s has responded to each concern and reviewed them to the fullest extent possible, he said during the meeting.
“Gelson’s is a great market, and it is full of opportunity for the city,” commissioner Steve Ortmann said. “It hasn’t been handled right with the community, and I don’t think policies are going to fix it.”
In order to continue the construction process, Paragon will need a master use permit, a land use application that identifies and mitigates possible environmental impacts of certain projects, and a sign program, a Los Angeles City Department of Planning provision aimed at creating a unified design or architectural theme in addition to defining common sign regulations for multi-tenant development projects, Planning Commissioner Chris Conaway said.
“Not only will Gelson’s fill a void in our city, but their location will revitalize what has been a blighted site on Sepulveda,” Dillavou said.