Los Alamitos shows sign of business growth

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Contractors are making excellent progress on the Los Al High School's new STEM building.

The Los Alamitos Planning and Zoning Commission approved two business permits this past week and defied the staff’s recommendation for a third as new businesses seek to open in the city.

While still meeting on Zoom, the Commission’s agenda was filled with proposals for new and expanded business permits as commissioners, in some cases, defied key recommendations to give businesses the green light to proceed.

First, they approved a conditional use permit for a popular Los Al business that wants to expand to an area zoned as light industrial to accommodate their sustained growth.
Elizabeth Gomez, the owner of of Onstage Dance Center, said the existing business needs a new, larger location to grow into. Their chosen location is situated next to Mr. C’s towing in a light industrial zone, but Gomez said it is best suited to accommodate the many students, teens and children that want to join their growing community.

“Dance is an amazing vehicle for self-expression and developing social skills,” Gomez told the commissioners. “I’m seeking approval to move my business into a larger facility,” she said.

She said the new 22,040 square foot location is centrally located, has ample parking, more secure drop off zones and “provides a safe environment” for everyone involved. Gomez said Onstage teaches jazz, ballet and a variety of current and traditional dance to boys and girls.

Associate city planner Tom Oliver said the staff recommends the permit, but the city’s police department recommended the business not be allowed to remain open past 8:30 p.m., due to safety concerns.

“After reviewing the proposal for consistency with the general plan, staff believes that affirmative recommendations can be made for the permit,” said Oliver, given the security provisions.

Also, he said, there was a need for additional parking lot lighting because of the proposed use.

The commission did express concern about large vehicles currently parked in front of the proposed business, but Gomez said the owner of the towing company has assured her that all of the vehicles parked there now will be moved to the back because they are only there because of COVID.

Also, she said, he planned to facilitate the additional lighting requirement.
Several community members asked to speak on behalf of Onstage Dance’s proposal.
Jo Shade, of Rossmoor, said the current studio is “overgrown” and asked the commission to approve the permit so that the dance studio would not have to move out of the city.

“It is of utmost importance to parents and staff,” said Shade, who said her daughter is actively engaged with the dance program.

Ondrea Reed, Deputy Supt. of the Los Alamitos Unified School District, spoke in favor of the permit both as a parent and as a school administrator. “Positive things happen,” said Reed, “when our city works together.”

Reed said Onstage is “a beacon of hope” for many young people involved in the program, which she said includes her freshman daughter. “This is a second home to her and her friends,” said Reed, asking the commission to approve the studio’s move to a larger location.

Moreover, she said, Onstage is deeply intertwined and with and has a positive impact on the Los Al High School dance program. Reed said there was one trusted adult for every kid and said the physical and social effect of the overall community “is an amazing thing to see.”

Los Al high school teachers Jeff and Tina Heeren also spoke in favor of the proposal. Heeren said he was clueless when his daughter first expressed a desire to get involved with dancing, yet “before long, we were there every night.”

Heeren said his daughter was “welcomed with open arms, learned to work with others and found the community she wanted.” For his daughter, said Heeren, Onstage was “the happy place we all look for.”

“To say that this program has enriched her (daughter’s) life is an absolute understatement,” said his wife, Tina Heeren, calling it a place where “every student fits in” and “no one is ever cut from a team.”

Jennifer Stewart said the business is part of the reason Los Alamitos Dance is recognized “around the country” as a top program. She said, for her daughter, “it is a safe place to go” that provides her daughter with a profound “sense of belonging.”

By the time Chairwoman Wendy Grose was able to ask Commissioners for input, the proposal had demonstrated significant community support. In fact, commissioner Guy Loe and Vice Chair Art DeBolt wondered why the Police Department had asked for earlier closing times than 9 p.m., citing security concerns.

DeBolt said the business, and its supporters, had demonstrated there are “enough good business people” attached to operation to know whether or not they need to close early. He recommended adding Saturday operating hours to the permit.
Loe said the commission “should be more liberal” with the hours for the business, given the testimony.

Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to approve the conditional use permit, without adjusting their hours of operation recommended by the city and the police department. Though approved by the Commission, the measure must now be approved by the city council, which can override any action by the panel.

City attorney Michael Daudt said commissioners did have significant authority to utilize their own judgement.

The panel also went a bit rogue on a recommendation to deny a permit for a proposed new, two-story medical office building. The 5,200 square foot building would replace homes at 4562 Katella and 11002 Saratoga was not a good fit, said city officials.

Local resident Alex Keller, who applied for the permit, was assisted during the online presentation by officials of Procon Development and others, including Keller’s daughter, now an attorney.

Following a long debate, Commissioner Victor Sofelkanik said he “kind of liked the project” and other commissioners expressed similar sentiments, as they refused make a motion to invoke the prepared resolution to reject the permit.

They instead dictated new questions for staff to research and asked the staff to re-evaluate the proposal to be discussed at the next meeting. Grose agreed to continue the public hearing until then.

Finally, the board approved a permit for The Crane Guys, currently located in La Mirada, to move into a 50,000 square foot structure in the city. Company spokesman Joe Schactano said they were eager for growth and the Los Al location took them two years to find.

The commission voted unanimously to grant their permit.

All of the recommendations, except the medical office building, now move to the city council for final adoption.