A new city law that recently went into effect puts time constraints on newly approved commercial and residential construction in Signal Hill, as a way to expedite developments after previous projects have sat in limbo for years.
The zoning-ordinance amendment went into effect late last month, or 30 days after the second reading by the City Council, which first approved the code change in a 5-0 vote on June 4.
The new ordinance puts time limits on new projects based on their size and type. Provisions allow for time extensions and extension-approval processes. But, if developers fail to meet the City’s new timelines, they face penalties of $200 per day for up to 180 days, or a maximum of $36,000, and having their building permits revoked.
City officials said the goal of the new requirements is to move developments along in a more timely fashion and give developers the message to not apply for permits until they are ready to start construction and complete projects.
“The intent is that, in the future, projects move more swiftly,” said Signal Hill Community Development Director Scott Charney in a phone interview with the Signal Tribune.
The Planning Commission first addressed the issue last year after reports that a number of construction projects in the City had been stalled for the last two to six years, leaving “unsightly job sites” in neighborhoods and causing ongoing noise, dust, debris and fumes as well as parking and traffic impacts on roads and infrastructure, according to city officials.
Developments have been hindered by the economic downturn that has hit the construction industry in the past several years while some projects in Signal Hill have been delayed by costly oil-well remediation requirements.
A staff report provided a list of projects that have been on hold. The report shows that a project to build a second residential unit at 3240 Cerritos Ave. was still ongoing at the time of the Council meeting in June, after the applicant received approval for a site plan and design review back in January 2005.
Another project to erect a 1,845-square-foot, two-story second residential unit at 1866 Stanley Ave. that involves converting a duplex into a three-bedroom, single-family dwelling had been in the works for more than three years. According to a previous Signal Tribune article, the City Council approved the project by Signal Hill property owner Mike Bailey in a 3-2 vote in November 2009.
A list of construction projects that was updated as of July 9, however, states that the residential unit on Stanley Avenue has since been completed and the unit on Cerritos Avenue was near completion with work being done on the interior.
Still, one project remains in question. Construction of a mosque at 995 27th St., in between EDCO’s recycling facility and administration building, has stopped and started for the past six years after the City Council approved a conditional-use permit in 2007. The Long Beach Islamic Center has proposed to build a one-story mosque with space for an office, conference room, assembly room, washrooms and restrooms on a 13,000 square-foot parcel of land. The building’s southern entry was expected to include an arcade with three arches supported by four columns finished in stucco.
The Signal Tribune reported that construction began on the site in 2010 after being held up by oil-well-remediation requirements. Today, however, the project appears to have stopped in its tracks, leaving nothing but an exterior frame of the building and a dome on the ground.
Charney said that a building permit for the project has expired and the applicant must now reapply for a site plan and building permits and go through another approval process with the Planning Commission. He said that, if the applicant decides to proceed, the project would be subject to the City’s new construction time limits and possibly other code enforcement.
Charney said the new time-limit requirements only apply to newly approved construction projects and don’t apply to projects that were approved prior to the city ordinance going into effect, even though past projects were the “genesis” of the new law.
He added that the Islamic center project appears to be an anomaly. “It’s not normal for an active project to lose their building permit,” Charney said. “This is an unusual situation.”
Islamic Center Chairman Tarek Mohamed had not responded by press time to the Signal Tribune’s phone messages and email seeking comment.
According to city officials, site plans may remain valid for up to two years, but, once a building permit is issued, new projects are required to follow the City’s construction time limits based on project size and type.
For instance, construction on a project with a floor-area size of 200 square feet or more would be required to start within 180 days of a building permit being issued.
The City’s new code also requires that nearby property owners within 100 to 500 feet of a project be notified upon the issuance of a building permit.
If a project has not been completed within the prescribed time limit, a request for a time extension may be filed after a 30-day grace period.
After the extension request is received, public notices would then be sent to nearby property owners. A 10-day public-comment period then would allow nearby residents to comment for or against the project.
If, for the first request, no public comments are received, planning officials may approve or deny the request. If the City receives public comments, however, the project would require Planning Commission approval.
In the case of a second time-extension request, the Planning Commission would approve or deny the application. The commission’s decision may then be appealed to the City Council.
If a project has not been completed within the time limits and after two extensions, however, penalties may ensue, following a final 30-day grace period.
City officials acknowledged that some projects might be held up due to lawsuits or labor disputes but added that situations may be taken into account through the appeals process or court hearings.