By Nick Diamantides
After being vacant for about seven years, two million-dollar houses sitting on the boundary line between Long Beach and Signal Hill may soon be emerging from their seemingly perpetual state of legal limbo. If so, they could be up for sale by the end of the year and occupied by their new owners shortly thereafter.
“We are hoping to be able to put the houses on the market by the end of the year, if not sooner,” said Brian Angel, office manager of Tarzana-based 6 Angels LLC, the company that owns the two houses at 2910 and 2914 Hill Street. “There were issues of driveways, easements and utilities, and we are still working on some of the stuff, but 90 percent of it is done,” Angel said. “We are done with the City of Long Beach, and the access problem is solved.”
The problems with the two houses had been that they have no legal access to a public street, no legal access to utility connections and no certificates of occupancy. Although the homes sit within the city limits of Long Beach, the portion of Hill Street adjacent to their front yards is in Signal Hill city limits. The man who built the houses in 2003 never obtained the necessary easements for driveways or utilities.
Even before the houses were constructed, the City of Signal Hill informed the builder that, because of safety concerns, the city could not allow their driveways to connect to Hill Street.
“The city has expressed concern to this developer, as well as to the previous developer, about the potential traffic hazards associated with the driveway access to Hill Street,” said Barbara Munoz, Signal Hill’s director of Public Works. “Some of those hazards were sight-distance ingress and egress to the property and turning radius, and also the fact that they had to comply with the driveway standards set up by the city.”
Munoz explained that the city’s main concern is that motorists traveling downhill on the street do not have a clear view of the driveways until they are too close to slow down or stop to allow cars to enter the street, but the other issues are important too. “The current developer had a traffic analysis performed, as did the previous developer, and they could not demonstrate a safe and lawful vehicle access on Hill Street,” she said. “Therefore, the city denied access.”
Munoz noted that she had not yet seen documented evidence that 6 Angels had acquired driveway easements for the properties. “I think they are in the process of gathering that information, and we will probably be having a meeting with them soon,” she said.
Although Signal Hill had informed the builder of the problem in 2003, he obtained building permits from the City of Long Beach, assuring that city’s planning department that he would be able to obtain the necessary easements. Because he never did so, and because he kept working on the houses after the City of Long Beach gave him a stop-work order, Long Beach refused to issue occupancy permits for the houses.
Since 2003, the two homes have changed ownership several times. In 2006, two groups of real-estate investors purchased them and tried without success to get the necessary driveway and utility easements. 6 Angels acquired the properties in April 2008 from Farmers & Merchants Bank for a total of about $800,000.
In early July 2008, the code enforcement division of the City of Long Beach gave 6 Angels one month to begin work on the code violations present in both houses and to show that progress was being made in obtaining the driveway and utility easements. 6 Angels appealed the code enforcement order to the Long Beach Board of Examiners, Appeals and Condemnations. That body gave the company more time to either comply with the order or show that progress was being made.
Angel said he has been to numerous abatement hearings in the last 12 months, and in every hearing he was able to show progress being made. “Now we have no more hearings scheduled because we are at the point in the process where we are moving along to actually work on the property,” he said. “We’ve got most of the issues worked out.”
Angel explained that his company is now very close to obtaining driveway and utility easements from the owners of private property behind the houses. The easements would connect the houses to Orizaba Avenue and allow utility lines to pass through the two lots behind the houses. Angel said he was confident that his company would have the easements in the next few months.
“We have also worked out everything with the City of Long Beach to bring the properties up to code and to finish off some things the City wants done to the properties,” he said.
“It’s more accurate to say the issues are heading to a final resolution and we are very hopeful,” said Mike Mais, assistant city attorney for Long Beach. “We have seen more movement out of Mr. Angel and the owners of that property in the last couple of months than we had seen from the previous owners in the last five years.”
Mais noted that in the past two weeks work crews have been grading and landscaping the front yard of the properties. “That is what we asked them to do first because it was such a concern to people in the neighborhood or people driving past the houses,” he said. “Our first concern was to make sure those properties were no longer an eyesore.” He added that the City of Long Beach had issued permits for the work being done in the front yards.
Mais noted that after that work is done, the city will send building inspectors to examine certain aspects of the two buildings. “At some point, our inspectors will go in to make sure there are no life safety issues in either of those houses,” he said. “Some of the work was done by the first owner of the property after we had issued a stop-work order, so we have a concern some of that work was completed without the necessary inspections.”
As for the easements, Mais, too, said he has not seen any documentation that shows progress being made on that front. “I only know what I was told by Brian Angel’s construction manager– that they are currently in escrow to obtain all the necessary easements,” he said. “When their escrow closes, they will have to demonstrate to us that they have the necessary easements before we open up Orizaba.”
Mais stressed that he is pleased with the work 6 Angels is doing and with the fact that the company is cooperating with city officials. “We just hope that we can finally get this issue closed,” he said.
Angel said he is confident that all issues will be resolved in the next four or five months. He added that at this point he does not know how much 6 Angels will be asking for the properties.