Fault lines emerge as Lampson project set to move forward

Opinions differ after developer-hosted ‘open house’

Les Johnson, center, discusses the Lampson Project with area residents who turned out for the open house event held at the Ayres Hotel as concerned residents mill around the room, seeking additional information. Photo by David N. Young

Following an open house sponsored by developers of a proposed housing project on Lampson Ave. in Los Alamitos, opponents are now gearing up for a needed zoning change while project managers say they are processing changes requested by residents.

Developers voluntarily hosted an open house last week at the Ayres hotel, the format of which was debated after the fact.

The event provided no opportunity for public discussion of the project yet did allow residents to meet face-to-face with experts and, in some cases, the developers themselves in small groups to discuss their concerns.

A spokesman for the developers said later that it was never planned as a public forum and was specifically advertised only as an open house, to which all local residents were invited.

Instead of one big public meeting, developers had installed oversize color poster-size photos of each of the housing units, traffic patterns, etc., resting on easels, as experts from each of the development companies stood guard and answered questions from residents at their various stations.

Some Lampson project opponents said after the meeting that they were underwhelmed, to say the least, with the open house format. “The open house was kind of a joke and seemed like a formality,” said Justin Silva, a concerned area resident.

Silva is a resident of College Park East, a Seal Beach community of approximately 1,700 homes and approximately 3,000 people, and now heads the “Stop Lampson Project.” College Park East is located just across Lampson Ave. from the project.

“I think one of the things that the developers were doing there was attempting to evaluate what kind of opposition this project would have,” he added.

“I think that they’re trying to prevent, which is already kind of too late, any organized opposition,” he said. In addition, Silva said he thinks developers were simply “assessing the risk that our opposition poses to the project, which I think is significant.”

“People thought that the folks there would be transparent with them and honest about the impact the project is going to have,” said Silva, saying some residents feel like some answers were vague.

Developers, meanwhile, say the event, which was well attended, was a very effective method of getting information to residents and for developers to hear concerns from them.

Arnold Wilkins, a College Park East resident who attended the meeting, was among residents not happy with the Lampson open house format.

“I was extremely disappointed,” said Wilkins, saying, “it was not at all what I thought it would or should be.”

Others, like Justin Bragg, of Rossmoor, said “with some changes,” he thought the project could become a positive addition to the community. Bragg said he attended because he was concerned about nearby playing fields (Arbor Park) utilized by AYSO, which he learned would not be affected.

Developers, through a spokesperson, said the format allowed them to meet with many people, face-to-face, and were quite happy with the turnout, and reaction, from those who attended. “We felt that this opportunity to engage in dialogue with the residents was productive,” said Les Johnson, an official with T&B Planning who is acting as a spokesperson for the development team. “We thought it was time well spent on our part,” he said.

Johnson said he is aware that some people are unhappy about the format of the Lampson Project open house, yet developers feel it was very effective.

The open house “gave us a chance to directly hear concerns and interests from residents. We captured as much as we could in what was verbally conveyed to us,” said Johnson, and we have received a number of written comments from the meeting.”

“The development team is going through each and every one of those [suggestions] right now,” he said, “and we’re already looking at ways that we can address those concerns and to see if there are options.”

Johnson said developers are open to “consider potential changes, within reason, to the project. “

Already, said Johnson, there’s a number of items “on the table and … being considered at this point.”

Though now in the private sector, Johnson has worked as a city manager in Los Alamitos and as a planner in Seal Beach, so he understands local housing requirements.

The Lampson Project development has created a unique civic entanglement by having opposition to it from residents who do not reside in the decision-making city.

The Lampson developers recently acquired a 12.3-acre commercial parcel in the City of Los Alamitos in a public auction and are now proposing to raze the commercial building currently resting on the property and eventually construct 246 assorted residences.

Most of the project opposition, thus far, has come from residents in CPE across the street from the proposed development in Seal Beach, obviously a different city in which the development has been proposed.

They have expressed concerns about the affordable homes, the overall housing density of the project and many at the open house expressed concerns about the increased traffic and parking problems the additional 500 or so new residents will bring to Lampson Ave.

Schelly Sustarsic, a CPE resident and a Seal Beach Council member who represents the area, said she attended the open house and understands the frustrations expressed by many residents.

Sustarsic said she has submitted a two-page comment to developers to express traffic and other concerns, but ultimately, “it is not our [Seal Beach’s] decision to make.”

That said, Sustarsic said she is paying close attention to “any impact the development will have on our residents,” but said it is early in the process and she will closely examine the environmental impact when the studies are completed.

Silva said membership in the Stop Lampson Project opposition group has jumped after the open house. Moreover, he said the group’s website, which tracks events and allows people to confirm their attendance, indicated that more than 100 people from the group attended the open house.

Though they are opposed to certain aspects of the project, Silva said they too intend to respect the process and conduct themselves in a professional manner. “I can say that we definitely want to go through this in a professional way. I think it’s really tempting, especially with how upset people are, to just, you know, break out the pitchforks,” he added.

To do that, he predicted, would only be “a path to defeat because we’ll get, we’ll get discredited in a heartbeat, so we want to handle ourselves professionally at all times.”

That said, Silva said project opponents “expect to have a significant presence” at the Los Al Planning Commission meeting on Dec. 14 and at the regular city council meeting on Dec. 19.

The multi-acre site is currently zoned commercial and must obtain a zoning change from the Los Al planning commission and be confirmed by the City Council before the project can proceed.

Johnson said developers welcome input from the public and even the opposition group, adding that developers are open to a meeting with them.

While it is obvious that there are some completely opposed to the project, developers believe the vast majority are more concerned about the project design.

“There were some that were just outright opposed to the project,” he said, “ but we felt that most of the dialogue was more in line with questions as to the design of the project, why the number of units, why affordable units versus market-rate units, concern over the additional traffic generation on Lampson, etc.,” said Johnson.

“We believe that most of the questions we were able to answer and, for the most part, were helpful. And again, we felt overall that the dialogue was time well spent and worthwhile,” he added.