With only three items to discuss this month, the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood’s Land Use Committee was able to devote significant time to each item, and eventually voted (though not unanimously in any case) to recommend that the GWNC board support all three proposals.
7000 W. Melrose Ave.
This project, a 4-6 story, 63-unit mixed use Density Bonus-program development located just east of La Brea on the south side of Melrose Ave., was first presented to the committee last month. At the time, it won praise from several committee members, who said they welcomed a project at what has long been a trouble-ridden empty lot, and also praised the building’s design as better and at least a bit more interesting than many they’ve seen in recent years.
In addition to the positive comments at the July meeting, however, committee members also asked the developers last month to do some additional outreach to at least a couple of the site’s nearest neighbors – an apartment building on Sycamore, and the Home-Safe child care facility on Melrose.
At this month’s meeting, developer representative Matthew Hayden reported that the requested outreach was done, winning generally favorable comments (along with some questions and concerns about the construction phase of the project) from the neighboring apartment building’s owner and manager. Hayden also reported that the Home-Safe facility only houses program offices, not an actual day care or preschool facility, and has been mostly closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two community members at this month’s meeting expressed concerns about the building’s design, saying they would like to see something a bit more distinctive on Melrose. And they also said they’re concerned about security, especially in light of the recent uptick in crime (including several homicides) in the Melrose area. Building owner Daniel Faraset, whose family also owns the building just to the west, at the SE corner of Melrose and La Brea, and whose office is also in that building, assured the residents that he, too, is very concerned with security and that it will be a priority at this site. Faraset noted that his family has been intimately involved with the neighborhood for many years, and that he also sits on the board of the Melrose Business Improvement District, which has been working especially hard lately to address local crime and safety issues. Faraset said the new building will definitely have security systems, and that he would also consider an on-site security guard if it seems warranted at the time the building opens.
Questions and comments from committee members this month included tree planting (Hayden said they do plan to add street trees to enhance the overall site, though specific details have not yet been outlined), the shallowness of the Melrose-fronting storefronts (Hayden said that design element is, unfortunately, necessitated by the position of the parking entrance from Sycamore Ave., behind the storefronts), and some potential design enhancements (including picking up more cues – such as chevroned window patterns from the building across the street – from older buildings in the neighborhood).
In the end, however, most committee members seemed to agree with committee secretary Cathy Roberts, who said she generally likes the building’s corner treatment, proposed landscaping, window treatments, surface plane variation, and parking capacity (101 vehicle spaces and 59 bike spaces), which – all too rare these days – meets city minimums. The committee voted 8 to 1 to recommend that the GWNC board support the project.
507 N. Larchmont Blvd.
This proposal is for a three-story office building, with one ground-floor retail storefront space (just 16 feet wide), that would replace a 1920s single-family residence now used as office space.
According to the project representatives, the project is fully by-right (meaning that it can proceed without any special entitlements or permissions from the neighborhood or city), and although the developers are close to securing their permits, they did receive a letter recently suggesting they present the project to the local Neighborhood Council, to help inform the neighbors.
While one committee member suggested that the design may be too modern for the location, others commented that it does contain several elements reminiscent of classic 1920s modernist style (including the windows, balconies, overall massing, and other design elements on the upper stories), which would definitely be period-appropriate for the area.
In discussions about landscape and greening the site, Jean-Pierre Boladian noted that the one mature street tree fronting the property (as shown above) will be retained, and also – at the urging of committee member Daniela Prowizor-Lacayo – said he might be open to the suggestion of creating a “green wall,” hanging gardens, or planters to incorporate more greenery, even though there isn’t room for more traditional landscaping on the site.
Finally, committee members also strongly recommended that the developers present the project to the Larchmont Village Neighborhood Association, which represents the area. Because of the by-right status and time issue (permits due to be issued very soon), however, the committee – after some disucssion about whether or not to move forward ahead of support from the LVNA, and how to frame motion language in that context – voted by a narrow margin of 5-4 to recommend that the GWNC board support the project.
City Council File 21-0658 – Streamlining the Approval Process for 100% Deed-Restricted Affordable Housing Projects
GWNC Alternate Board Member and Outreach Committee member Raphie Cantor presented a request to support this item – a June 15 motion from City Council Member Nithya Raman that would “instruct the Department of City Planning, with the assistance of the Housing and Community Investment Department and the Department of Building and Safety, to report back within 90 days with a strategic plan to streamline 100% deed-restricted affordable housing projects in the City ofLos Angeles.” The motion suggests that the requested report consider several aspects of such a plan, including:
- Increased departmental resources to facilitate shorter staffreview times;
- Shorter appeal times;
- Accelerated prioritization for 100% affordable housing projects over and above that already provided by Executive Directive 13;
- Modifications to site plan review thresholds; and
- Use of an administrative review process for 100% deed-restricted affordable housing projects.
[Background note: “Deed restrictions” and “covenants,” terms which are often used interchangeably, are the legal means by which the city requires and enforces that certain properties or units adhere to certain rules – such as affordability thresholds – and continue to do so over time, even with changes in ownership. Most local affordability covenants have been valid for 55-year terms, and many such agreements, first made in the late 1960s, are now expiring.]
Committee discussion of this item was fairly vigorous and lengthy. Committee chair Philip Farha noted that he generally opposes any sort of covenants that restrict housing use for many decades into the future, because we have no way of knowing what the city will be like at that point in time. And committee member Rory Cunningham said he’s also uncomfortable with the idea of “covenants,” because they were used historically in many of our local neighborhoods to create long-term racial restrictions on property ownership.
Cantor reported, however, that LA County lost more than 3,000 units of deed-restricted affordable housing last year, when many 55-year affordability covenants expired, and argued that streamlining the approval process to create more new affordable units is important, to help build more affordable housing as fast as possible, and to keep as many people housed as possible during our current housing crisis. And both Cantor and Roberts reminded committee members that this specific motion does not actually propose new a new ordinance that would make it easier to get 100% affordable housing projects approved – it just requests the Department of City Planning, the Housing and Community Investment Department, and the Department of Building and Safety to report on the possibilities for such an ordinance.
Committee member Jane Usher generally agreed with Cantor and Roberts on both of these points, saying it’s a “head-scratcher” that with so little affordable housing being built, and the urgent need to build more of it, more people wouldn’t support this idea. And she noted that because the motion just requests a report, not a specific new ordinance, there will be many more opportunities (or “bites at the apple”) to debate the merits and potential details of such a plan after the report is received and more specific rules, if any, are formulated through the usual city council processes.
In the end, most people agreed with Cantor and Usher, and the committee voted 7-2 to recommend that the GWNC board write a Community Impact Statement supporting Council File 21-0658.
The next meeting of the GWNC Land Use Committee will take place on Tuesday, September 28, via Zoom, at 6:30 p.m. The next meeting of the GWNC Board will take place on Wednesday, September 8, also via Zoom, and also at 6:30 p.m.