Advocacy at the South Bay Association of REALTORS®

Manhattan Beach Blvd at Metlox Plaza

Manhattan Beach moves to protect small town charm, but not without risks

After several years of planning, discussions and public participation, the Manhattan Beach City Council this week moved to protect the small town charm of its downtown core. This action comes amid (or despite) the very, very expensive real estate surrounding it. The Daily Breeze reports:

Moving to preserve the quaint, small-town charm of a community increasingly defined by affluence, Manhattan Beach leaders have finalized a long-term blueprint to help the city get through its downtown identity crisis.

The 384-page plan is more than a vision — it sets restrictions, regulatory standards and a more stringent permit process for future businesses downtown. The new rules apply to a 40-block area bounded by 15th Street to the north, Valley Drive to the east, Eighth, Ninth and 10th Streets to the south and the Strand to the west.

It’s almost and old cliché by now that Manhattan Beach is a victim of its success. In fact, it has benefited greatly with the influx of new investment and high-net-worth homebuyers. SBAOR has reported for some time now that its median home price is three or four times greater than that of the rest of the South Bay. This week the median price is hovering right around $2 million.

When affluence doesn’t always have a positive impact

Not everyone came out ahead, however. Business owners have complained for years that they are getting priced out of their own storefronts. In 2013, a proposal emerged that would ban all office uses (i.e. banks and real estate offices) from the ground floor pedestrian storefronts in downtown Manhattan Beach.

SBAOR firmly opposed this idea and joined with city and community leaders in a conversation about how best to preserve Manhattan Beach over time. Ultimately, the end result is a specific plan, a unique urban planning tool that strictly defines how land uses may be permitted in its area.

The Manhattan Beach Downtown Specific Plan includes a provision that real estate offices wanting a street-level storefront must obtain a “use permit”, which existing real estate offices at street level are grandfathered in.

Sounds reasonable. That is, as long as the use permit process (similar to a Conditional Use Permit in other cities) is not too expensive, bureaucratic or political. SBAOR brought these issues up in the same Daily Breeze story:

David Kissinger of the South Bay Realtors Association — who could not attend the meeting — said his group was supportive of the changes, but maintains that real estate offices are legitimate pedestrian uses.

He said he has heard concerns raised about the process of getting a use permit.

“It can be extremely time-consuming, it can be very expensive and it can be politically unreasonable if a Planning Commission or City Council has the political desire to simply not permit your project to go through,” Kissinger said. “An application should succeed or fail based on the merits of the criteria — it shouldn’t be based on how expensive it is or what mood the Planning Commission is in.”

Now what?

So what happens now? The specific plan sets the stage for a kind of urban planning laboratory. Over the years it will show how the area preserves its small town charm and concentrates its focus on a great place to be. This is important not just for residents and businesses but also for visitors and tourists as well.

Want to know more information about the specific plan? Check it out here. (This link may change soon, so let us know if it stops working.)

Interested in a development project in Downtown Manhattan Beach? Contact the planning department and start the conversation!