Traffic passes on Torrance Boulevard and Irena Avenue past an abandoned car wash in Redondo Beach in this file photo from July 2006.
Traffic passes on Torrance Boulevard and Irena Avenue past an abandoned car wash in Redondo Beach in this file photo from July 2006. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)

The impending demolition of the old Redondo Car Wash on Torrance Boulevard was a cause for celebration last summer.

With a bulldozer and excavator sitting in the lot just west of Irena Avenue, a small crowd lined up for photos in anticipation of the crumbling building coming down.

But now, as plans for a new car wash move through the city's approval process, many residents in the surrounding neighborhood don't see much good about car wash consultant Chris McKenna's proposal for the now-vacant lot on the path to the waterfront. In fact, they're dead opposed to the new business for fear of what noise and traffic it would bring to the area, and turned out in force Thursday night to tell city officials as much.

After more than four hours of testimony, the city's Planning Commission voted 4-1 after midnight to reject the plan, even though several members said they had mixed feelings about doing so. Commissioner Marc Mitchell cast the dissenting vote, while members Nelson Zager and Douglas Kim were absent.

The project will move next to the City Council, as McKenna said afterward that he plans to appeal.

"I can't imagine this not being an impact on the immediate neighbors along the property line to the north," Planning Commissioner John Parsons said of the so-called "flex-serve operation" that would offer customers full-service car washes and the option of cleaning and vacuuming their own vehicles.


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"I think it's a very attractive building. I just think it's the right thing in the wrong place," Parsons said.

McKenna's project, which includes space for local favorite Catalina Coffee Co. to open a small shop on site, would move onto a lot that has long been a source of complaints in Redondo Beach.

Before it was demolished, the previous car wash had sat vacant for more than 10 years and had become a magnet for the homeless and, as city staff members put it, "others participating in undesirable and possibly dangerous activities."

In fact, District 2 City Councilman Bill Brand ran for office four years with a promise to rid the car wash lot of the blight, and was among those posing for the photo last August.

But some residents said Thursday night that while they, too, want to see the lot improved, McKenna's car wash proposal isn't the right fit. Neighbors packed the City Council chambers and came prepared to dissect the project based on their concerns about noise and vibrations, traffic flow in and around the site, parking, air quality and more.

In their camp was an environmental attorney, an acoustical engineer, a real estate broker and someone who took the time to play a video that included sound snippets from other South Bay car washes.

"This is an express-model car wash. ... The idea of this thing is high volume," said Irena Avenue resident Mark Kleiman, who documented noise for about five hours at two area car washes. "We contend in the neighborhood this will have an enormous adverse impact. ... I really can't think of anything worse."

And even though residents tolerated a car wash before, Kleiman said it was a full-service car wash rather than an express model. "What we're saying is, car washes have changed. This model was not around in 1960."

Kleiman's wife, Kristy, urged commissioners not to simply place conditions on the development and push it through. "We would argue such an approval is dangerous and inadequate," she said.

Before the panel made its ruling, McKenna stood up to counter some of the residents' contentions - accompanied by his own sound engineer and a representative for the manufacturer of the three 10-horsepower blowers that would dry off freshly washed cars.

He took issue with the neighbors' video that explored nearby car washes, saying sound measurements were taken "right under the blowers ... so it's going to be loud." He said they have found ways to minimize the noise.

McKenna said he had made attempts to address residents' concerns, having hosted a meeting at nearby Calamari's restaurant. (Some complained they didn't know about it, however.)

Also, in response to concerns about traffic flow, he offered three potential site plans, one of which eliminated an entrance and exit from Irena Avenue altogether.

But traffic flow remained a sticking point along with the parking setup, and the commissioners decided the size and shape of the lot was inadequate to accommodate the proposed use.

And Commissioner Parsons said he was concerned that sounds from the car wash could exceed interior noise standards for nearby residences - an issue that McKenna said he was never made aware of as he worked on his proposal.

"We had no idea," he said afterward. "So we'll just look at all our options."

kristin.agostoni@dailybreeze.com

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