At its monthly meeting last week, the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council’s Land Use Committee spent the majority of its time hearing and discussing a report from a working group that has begun talking about possible land use strategies for shaping the future development of Larchmont Blvd. between Beverly Blvd. and Melrose Ave. – a.k.a. “Upper” Larchmont.
In the 1920s, this section of Larchmont Blvd. was developed mostly with residential buildings, including single family homes and small apartment buildings, around the same time that “lower” Larchmont was developed as a commercial district. In the 100 years since then, while some of the original residential buildings remain (though now mostly home to small businesses), and some newer commercial buildings have been built, newer city incentive programs like its Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) guidelines are likely to bring more and larger residential and mixed use developments to the area. In fact, a 2021 proposal for a new 5-story apartment building at 500 N. Larchmont (a project the GWNC and many neighbors opposed), was the beginning of this new, larger communication about working with the city and would-be developers to create a more cohesive vision for this section of Larchmont. The goal would be to help guide future development in a way that is both profitable for developers and more compatible with the surrounding community.
The GWNC’s working group for the discussions, formed by LUC chair Brian Curran in 2022, includes three Land Use Committee members – Jane Usher (a Windsor Square resident), Patti Carroll (who owns a business on N. Larchmont), and Karen Gilman (a Larchmont Village resident). It also includes GWNC Vice President and Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association President Charles D’Atri, GWNC board member and Hancock Park Homeowners Association President Cindy Chvatal-Keane, architect, developer, and former Land Use Committee member John Kaliski, and Windsor Village resident and co-founder of the Livable Communities Initiative, Lindsay Sturman.
According to Usher, who delivered last week’s presentation, there were two driving factors behind the group’s formation. The first was the fact that this section of Larchmont has been identified for potential up-zoning under TOC guidelines in the City’s approved Housing Element Corridor Strategies. And the second was the April 2022 approval of a new 5-story apartment project at 500 N. Larchmont Blvd. (NE corner of Larchmont and Rosewood), which the GWNC and LVNA opposed, but which was eventually approved by the city.
According to Usher, the new group has met twice a month since its formation, to start defining parameters for the ongoing conversation. Usher said group members have been reviewing various graphics and photos, mostly provided by Livable Communities, showing examples of “harmonious, walkable, affordable and housing-abundant mixed use boulevards,” to get an idea of what might be possible on Larchmont. Patterns were reviewed from both existing cities and less specific streetscapes that might provide further inspiration. (See images at the top of this story and below for two examples.)
Usher said the group has also “created a list of primary goals and key topics and strategies” that might guide future development on Upper Larchmont, and has also begun discussing “possible trade-offs” that could be made to help reach community consensus for the effort.
So far, Usher said the group has identified several primary land use goals for the street. They include:
- “New development should build on the successful principles which have made Larchmont Boulevard and the surrounding neighborhood a successful live/work area.”
- “Encourage basic design principles which are in harmony with the existing language of the neighborhood.”
- “Welcome and support the development of substantial affordable housing within the existing design vernacular.”
- “Keep and encourage walkability from Beverly to Melrose, as well as continuing a personal small street/small town feeling.”
She said key topics for the continuing discussions will include sets of defined standards for:
- Commercial uses such as retail, restaurants, etc.
- Affordable housing (e.g. target percentages, ideally higher than the city’s current 10% for many developments)
- Yard sizes (including things like front, side, and rear setbacks)
Usher said the group will also likely address topics such as street design, parking (minimums/maximums, possible angled parking, protections for adjacent residential streets), traffic calming (e.g. slow streets), al fresco dining, bike lanes, sidewalk widening, trees, and more.
The group will also likely explore development of building and landscaping design standards, including optimal sizes for housing units to maintain affordability, ideal building heights (such as a “possibly requiring four stories using approved design vernacular”), neighborhood-compatible building plans, front door placements, parkway sizes, and greenery, with the possible promise of “by right” approval if a project follows the standards.
Finally, Usher said the group’s likely next steps will be to:
- Use outreach to establish a GWNC stakeholder consensus on the goals and strategies for the effort.
- Begin discussions with the Planning Department and City Council Office to engage them in the process and obtain their participation and guidance.
- Consider whether a Community Plan Implementation Overlay Zone – a planning tool that can help set standards for a specific geographic area – is needed to achieve the community’s vision for Upper Larchmont
Usher said outreach to begin building the broader community consensus the group seeks will start with the associations that represent the residential areas adjacent to this section of Larchmont, as well as the Larchmont Boulevard Association, which represents business owners on the street. As this process continues and expands, Usher said, the group will continue to expand its outreach and also continue to report back to the Land Use Committee and the larger GWNC Board.
After Usher’s presentation, there were many positive reactions from committee members, all of whom lauded the working group’s proactive tackling of the subject, and many offering more specific observations, questions and suggestions.
- This proactive approach to future development is a good idea because it will help prevent the more random kind of redevelopment we’ve seen on other major streets such as Crenshaw Blvd., which now lacks a cohesive character.
- It’s good to see the group’s encouragement for the development of affordable housing, which has proven challenging when specific affordable projects have been proposed elsewhere in the general area.
- If we plan for large numbers of affordable housing units, should we also consider how to develop more affordable services and retail for the potential residents of those units?
- How likely or rapidly will the ownership of current properties on Larchmont turn over to facilitate this level of new development?
- “If we find an inventive way to build it, people will come.”
- It’s refreshing to see “real planning” that precedes development, and not just reactions to individual projects after they’re already proposed.
- This community, home to a real “brain trust” of experts, is uniquely qualified to do this kind of work…though it might also be worth it for the community to fund hiring a professional to flesh out the community’s ideas when the discussion is further along.
- People have seriously underestimated the desire for retail on north Larchmont.
- We need to balance these kinds of planning goals with the state’s efforts to mandate housing construction and promote construction incentives devoid of context.
- While creating a vision and set of design standards could be great, it’s also tricky – we don’t want them to be so rigid that we wind up with a Disney, Grove, or Americana version of the community…but also we don’t want them to be so lacking in point of view that we wind up with random, “higgeldy piggeldy” development.
Several people mentioned that this is a good time to undertake such a proactive development conversation, because the city is due to update our local Wilshire Community Plan – which is the main document governing land use in the Greater Wilshire area – and a new CPIO could easily be folded into the new Community Plan. LUC chair Brian Curran said stakeholders tried to do something similar during the recent update of the Hollywood Community Plan, but instead of neighbors working on recommendations for a new CPIO before the Community Plan Update, the city brought a draft CPIO to stakeholders, and the details didn’t really match the stakeholders’ vision.
Others also agreed that a CPIO would be a great tool for Larchmont because it is designed to offer tradeoffs that let builders solve problems within a context that works for the neighborhood, while also working within current development and architectural trends.
Finally, Usher said the working group’s next discussion will probably be with the Larchmont Boulevard Association, and then the group will be “taking it on the road” to other local groups for further input. Since this was just a preliminary report, no votes were taken or recommendations made regarding the group’s work so far.
In other Land Use business last week, the committee also voted by a margin of 7 votes in favor and 2 opposed to recommend that the GWNC board support an application for the construction of a five-story, 23-unit apartment building, with 3 units reserved for Very Low Income tenants, on a currently-empty lot at 600 N. Gramercy Place. Committee discussion included questions of how the large number of balconies would eventually be used by tenants, and the lack of drawings showing the proposed building in context with its neighbors. But one neighboring resident did attend the meeting to speak in support of the project, and no one spoke in opposition, so the final vote favored the development.
Finally, the Land Use Committee also voted unanimously to recommend that the GWNC board communicate a request to the city that it take a more unified, less complicated and more cohesive approach, involving all relevant city agencies, to its proposed new Al Fresco Dining Ordinance. Currently, as the Buzz has previously reported, the city is proposing two separate processes for permitting al fresco dining spaces first legalized under COVID-19 emergency orders — one for dining areas on private property, and one for dining areas in the public right of way areas, including streets and sidewalks — an approach that many restaurant owners say would be needlessly complicated and prohibitively expensive for them to navigate.
The next meeting of the GWNC Land Use Committee will be held via Zoom at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 28. The next GWNC board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m., also via Zoom, on Wednesday, March 8.
About Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and is the co-owner/publisher of the Buzz.
- More Posts