Esther Kang

Manhattan Village expansion proposal continues to gridlock City Council

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The Manhattan Village Mall

The Manhattan Village mall today. PHOTO BY ALENE TCHEKMEDYIAN

After conducting its eighth public hearing regarding Manhattan Village, the Manhattan Beach City Council remains gridlocked on whether to approve the mall’s expansion project first proposed in 2006, in part due to implicit threats of litigation extended by a neighboring property owner at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Mark Neumann, a co-owner representing the property at 3500 Sepulveda which includes Tin Roof Bistro, The Vintage Shoppe and SusieCakes, claims both the city and mall developer RREEF have shut him out of process, rezoning his property without his consent or input. A  private settlement between the two parties and Macy’s in 2008 stipulated that 3500 Sepulveda’s owners can use the space at their discretion; under the new agreement, the property owners can no longer have banks or medical offices as tenants.

Neumann has filed an appeal, he said, simply to force the city to involve him in the process.

“Where’s the transparency?” Neumann asked the Council. “I feel like the facts are being hidden. It reminds me of the Geoff Dolan case.”

The Council was poised to certify the final environmental impact report and approve a master use permit amendment for the Manhattan Village expansion project Tuesday. At a Jan. 14 City Council meeting, the Council directed staff to draft resolutions approving the project with 10 conditions and revisions that address common concerns with regard to the project scale and phases.

The proposed expansion will add nearly 80,000 sq. ft. to the existing site in two phases of construction. The proposed site is 653,000 sq. ft. total. The first phase would demolish Coffee Bean and See’s Candy, among other stores, to make way for an outdoor promenade with new retail space and a two-and-a-half level parking deck on the south side of the mall; the second phase entails consolidating Macy’s men’s store with the main department store building and adding another parking deck north of the expansion.

The north parking deck's new entrance is designed to look like a storefront. Courtesy of RREEF

The north parking deck’s new entrance is designed to look like a storefront. Courtesy of RREEF

On Tuesday, the city’s planning manager Laurie Jester walked the Council and public through the developer RREEF’s revised plan, addressing these conditions. In terms of scale, 10,000 sq. ft. has been eliminated from phase 1, and the north parking deck has been reduced and redesigned to resemble the south parking structure.

Per the Council’s direction at the January meeting, phase 3, which sought to demolish Fry’s Electronics to build a connecting mall adjacent to the site, has effectively been dropped, reducing an additional 33,000 sq. ft. from the overall project. Fry’s lease expires Dec. 2016, but the developer has agreed to negotiate in good faith if Fry’s wishes to stay, Jester explained. Mark English of RREEF later said the two parties are working out a longterm extension with a one-year notice of termination.

The developer has also agreed to submit a letter committing Macy’s and RREEF to the consolidation of its stores before permits are issued for phase 2, addressing another concern raised by Council. In addition, Macy’s will pay substantial penalties to RREEF if the expansion is not completed, Jester explained.

Additionally, Cedar Way will be connected to Rosecrans Boulevard as part of phase 2 in an effort to alleviate concerns about traffic congestion. RREEF will fund a traffic study for Oak and Cedar Avenues, for a cost not to exceed $20,000. As part of phase 1, the developer will pay a security bond for traffic-related site amenities, equal to 125 percent of the improvement costs.

Neumann’s attorney, Cory Briggs, said the Council could face legal repercussions due to conflict of interest if it certifies the EIR as is: he claimed the report is filled with studies prepared for the developer, not the city. Traffic consultant Pat Gibson, for example, lists RREEF as a client on his company’s website, not the City of Manhattan Beach. The city is being misled, he said.

In an interview, Gibson said RREEF is paying the city, which in turn is paying him for his services.

North east component of proposed expansion. Courtesy of RREEF

North east component of proposed expansion. Courtesy of RREEF

RREEF’s English, in his rebuttal, claimed that the Village enhancement project is consistent with the two parties’ private agreement.

“My regret is that the city is being pulled into a dispute between private parties,” Councilman David Lesser said.

A repeated concern for Councilmen Mark Burton and Tony D’Errico revolved around the placement of the north parking deck and the lack of open space it entails. D’Errico referred to a nearby outside mall, The Point in El Segundo, where open space accounts for 10 percent of its overall footprint. In the proposed plan for Manhattan Village, D’Errico said open space accounts for less than a half percent.

“We are creating the biggest space with what we have,” English said. He said comparing Manhattan Village with The Point is akin to apples and oranges, as RREEF is not working with blank, flat open space.

In an unrelated matter, English announced that the Apple Store, among the mall’s biggest sales tax generators, has agreed to stay on site.

The Council will continue the public hearing on May 20 at 5 p.m. in the Council Chambers. The public will be allowed to comment on the specific amendments and conditions of the project; consultants and staff will have the opportunity to respond to the allegations made by Neumann.

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