Former Fresh & Easy site, adjacent properties may serve as future mixed-use area

Signal Tribune Newspaper

March 11, 2017

Those who attended, read about or watched a video of the Feb. 9 Signal Hill City Council candidate forum may have noticed the repeated mention of a particular topic– the city’s need for a community gathering place.

That need may indeed be met, now that city officials are discussing what to do with a cluster of abandoned properties that may eventually serve as a mixed-use area where residents can meet up and enjoy a meal or drink in an outdoors setting.

At its Feb. 28 meeting, the successor agency to the Signal Hill Redevelopment Agency– which consists of the five city council members– discussed the future of the properties located at 2435-2461, 2475 and 2485 Gardena Ave., which include the former Fresh & Easy store and adjacent vacant industrial buildings.

Staff brought forth a recommendation for the successor agency to enter into an exclusive-right agreement with Signal Hill Petroleum to negotiate the price and terms to acquire and develop the former redevelopment properties.

City Manager Charlie Honeycutt explained that the goal of the plan is for a comprehensive development that combines the properties into a mixed-use site that would include residential and retail amenities, as well as a community gathering place.

Elise McCaleb, economic development manager, presented a summary of the negotiation agreement to the successor agency.

“The provisions of the negotiating agreement are as follows: the term of the agreement is 180 days, and the term may be extended an additional 180 days if certain tasks are completed,” McCaleb said. “During the term, Signal Hill Petroleum will conduct due-diligence activities, as well as more fully develop a conceptual site plan and complete a proforma. The successor agency and Signal Hill Petroleum will work to develop the terms and conditions of the purchase-and-sale agreement, including the purchase price and a project schedule.”

McCaleb explained that Signal Hill Petroleum’s proposal is for new commercial, retail and restaurant developments, as well as multi-family housing. The project includes the retenanting of Fresh & Easy with another specialty grocery store.

She said that, as part of drafting the negotiating agreement, Signal Hill Petroleum worked with architectural firm KTGY to develop a conceptual site plan, which includes retail, dwelling units, a park and both structured and surface parking spaces.

“The agreement requires a $250,000 deposit to pay for all of the successor agency’s costs under the agreement,” McCaleb said, adding that the costs include: staff time; legal fees; environmental costs; traffic; landscaping; and petroleum, engineer, financial and economic consultants and reports. “In lieu of making this deposit, Signal Hill Petroleum may choose to release and quitclaim all surface rights and interests at 2745 Walnut Ave., also known as the police station, though Signal Hill Petroleum will be responsible to pay for the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) analysis. Additionally, because the buildings are so dilapidated, the negotiating agreement gives Signal Hill Petroleum the opportunity to demolish the three buildings and a loading dock.”

McCaleb said the successor agency would pay 50 percent of the demolition costs if a purchase-and-sale agreement is not negotiated.

After Scott Charney, community development director, presented a slideshow of renderings provided by Signal Hill Petroleum of the potential new development, Dave Aleshire, city attorney, emphasized that the images are merely conceptual at this time and that, as negotiations continue, there will be changes.

“The idea is that we have sort of a six-month period to work out the basic concepts,” Aleshire told the members of the successor agency. “At that point in time […] we come back to you with what all these changes are, and if we have all that worked out, that we have a definite concept that’s approved, then the next six months would be spent getting that entitled.”

The city attorney said that the project could be expanded to absorb more properties.

He also pointed out that the purchase price in the agreement document is blank, as it is subject to negotiation and will be determined by the ultimate outcome of the project.

Councilmember Tina Hansen asked Aleshire if the negotiations can continue if the details are not ironed out within six months.

“Absolutely,” Aleshire said. “It’s an agreement between two parties, and the two parties, when they come to an agreement, they can change anything.”

When Successor Agency Chair Lori Woods opened comments to the public, Kevin Laney, vice president of Rig Operations for Signal Hill Petroleum, thanked City staff for their work on the project.

“We all, obviously, acknowledge and understand that it is a concept at this point,” Laney said. “But I think we all feel like it’s a pretty good concept. We’re very excited to take on this project and work with the City and community to make this happen. It’s been a long time in the making, and we feel like the timing is right for a development like this in Signal Hill.”

Laney added that his company has been in talks with Mother’s Market about moving into the former Fresh & Easy site.

After the discussion, the successor agency voted to “receive and file” the staff report on the properties.