Signal Hill City Council approves new performance standards, compliance plans for trucking yards

Sean Belk
Staff Writer

The Signal Hill City Council adopted new performance standards and compliance plans for existing and future trucking yards during its Tuesday, June 18 meeting, addressing concerns that big rigs moving cargo to and from the local ports have created nuisance problems in neighborhoods in recent years.
In an effort to avoid any potential litigation, however, the Council went against the Planning Commission’s recommendation to shorten the timeframe in which trucking yards may remain vacant in a non-conforming use before being deemed abandoned.
The new standards are the result of the Council’s direction to planning staff last year after the City received complaints from residents and businesses that heavy container trucks carrying cargo were tracking around dirt, generating noise, parking on streets overnight and causing traffic problems.
The City had already adopted a list of performance standards for trucking yards in 2006 after similar complaints surfaced. Those standards primarily involved restricting future trucking yards to the City’s general industrial zone and setting 10 development standards, including lot size, frontage, lighting and security plans.
Colleen Doan, Signal Hill’s associate planner, however, pointed out that the previous ordinance changes didn’t apply to existing trucking yards, which had been the source of complaints last year. “The problem with that,” she said, “is intensification happens when we’re not watching our existing trucking yards.”
Such was the case when New Wave Transport, a trucking yard once located at Burnett Street and Gundry Avenue, ramped up operations in recent years, growing from a seemingly vacant site to a crammed lot overcrowded with trucks. The operation, however, has since left Signal Hill.
Upon an extensive review of the existing trucking yards in the city, however, Doan said that, out of 12 properties that were previously classified as trucking yards, only three currently fit the City’s description. The other operations are being classified as storage yards, with two categorized as hazardous-waste transfer facilities, she said.
In Planning Commission workshops and public hearings on staff’s analysis over the past year, several business and property owners originally came forward in opposition, packing the Council chamber. Since then, however, many operators have come to understand the City’s reason for re-classifying their uses, and the opposition has since subsided, she added.
“They thought they could continue having this trucking-yard use even though they weren’t actually functioning as a trucking yard and initially felt like it was a takeaway, that we were taking a potential future moneymaking use, or something that not everybody has in the city, from them,” Doan said. But many property owners that have been classified as trucking yards in the past would likely receive land-use designations of storage yards if they applied for a business license today, she added.
“What we realized was that a trucking yard is really nothing more and definitely nothing less than an empty lot during times of the day where trucks come and go and pick up cargo,” Doan said. Storage yards, on the other hand, while they may have freight trucks on site, are more associated with long-term storage of other vehicles, equipment and materials as well.
Scott Charney, Signal Hill’s director of community development, added that even if many of the re-classified property owners wanted to reapply as storage yards they would likely be denied because the City’s code now requires that operations have at least a minimum lot size of two acres, among a whole host of other requirements.
“Most of these yards would not be eligible to upgrade to the new standards because we have a rather large minimum lot size,” he said. “If their parcel’s large enough they could, but it would be an expensive process.”
The new performance standards for all trucking yards that were approved by the Council this week after the Planning Commission’s approval on June 11 require that tenants and property owners have current business licenses, follow best-management practices for California’s stormwater quality standards, pave and treat large open areas to prevent dust from being tracked out onto the street, in addition to following screening, landscaping and other stipulations.
The Council also adopted a set of plans that are considered a “tool” for property owners to comply with the City’s new standards.
One of the standards, however, was not approved. The Planning Commission’s recommendation to shorten the “discontinuance” timeframe that trucking yards have to remain vacant before they are deemed abandoned was shot down.
As a general rule, property owners of all land uses have 180 days or about six months to be categorized as a non-conforming use before they would have to reapply for a business license.
At the direction of the Council, planning staff had originally recommended shortening the timeframe to 60 days, but trucking-yard operators came forward in opposition, stating that it wouldn’t give them enough time to market the property for a new tenant. The Planning Commission had extended the timeframe to 90 days to accommodate the requests.
Still, Vincent Alvino, property owner of 1350 23rd St., one of the three remaining trucking yards in Signal Hill, spoke out against the planning staff’s recommendations, adding that he felt trucking yards were being singled out.
“In light of the changing dynamics and the fluid situations, does the City Council still want a reduction that’s inconsistent with the other at least 65 non-conforming uses?” he asked. “In my opinion, six months is reasonable. It’s business-friendly. And, as any realtor would attest to, it takes about six months to find a new tenant.”
In addition, City Attorney David Aleshire told the Council that the 180-day timeframe is standard practice and any timeframe lower than what is required for all uses might bring about a legal challenge. “That could get basis for challenging the legality, because of this special circumstance,” he said.
Mayor Michael Noll said the Council directed staff to look into shortening the timeline as an added restriction mainly because trucking yards aren’t a “favorable” use in the city, adding that the City doesn’t receive much revenue and trucks often cause wear and tear on city streets. “This is not a desirable use that we’re looking for in our city,” he said. Noll then directed staff to study all non-conforming land uses to possibly lower all discontinuance timeframes to 90 days to stay “consistent.”

Other Council highlights
Introductions and presentations
Jimmy Eleopoulos, owner of Big E Pizza, 3225 E. Pacific Coast Highway, gave a presentation to the Council on his family-owned business that is celebrating its 27th year in Signal Hill.

Alarm-systems ordinance

The Council approved a new ordinance that requires commercial and residential property owners apply for permits with the City to have security-alarm systems. The ordinance, presented by the Signal Hill Police Department, aims to reduce the number of false alarms before fees are assessed to recover police services.

Stormwater resolution
The Council approved a letter by Mayor Noll that supports a resolution sponsored by the Los Angeles County division of the League of California Cities requesting that the governor and the Legislature work with local governments to establish a 2014 water bond to fund projects related to new stormwater requirements.

The next Signal Hill Council meeting will take place Tuesday, July 16 at 7pm in the City’s Council Chamber.

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