More than 50 residents turned out last night to give the Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM) of the Mid City West Community Council their suggestions on how they think the five acre Town & Country Shopping Center site at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue should be redeveloped. The project was first presented to the committee in May when it generated much concern and very little support among committee members. While there was no presentation by the developer last night, there was a representative at the meeting taking notes and listening to the presentations.
“We understand that there are concerns about the initial proposed plans for the 3rd & Fairfax property and we are actively engaging in a community listening tour – meeting with stakeholders, attending community meetings and engaging in discussions with residents – so that we can come back to the neighborhood with a project that takes their concerns and suggestions into consideration,” said Tom Warren, Executive Managing Director for the Holland Partner Group (which has partnered with property owner Ira Smedra), said in a statement to the Buzz this morning. “We are committed to this continued conversation and want our neighbors at the school and throughout the community to know that we see this as the beginning of a long relationship.”
Preservation of Andre’s Italian Restaurant, concerns about the impact the project would have on Hancock Park Elementary school (which is located within ten feet of the proposed development), reduction of the scale of the large tower, and the desire to see the whole site considered were among the major concerns expressed at the meeting.
Most of the speakers offered suggestions about how the design of the development could be modified to better serve the community by adding more green space and replacing the single tower with several smaller buildings that could be arranged on the site to create a more pedestrian-friendly urban village instead of just a shopping mall. Many stressed the importance of really looking at the potential for the site which is located in one of the most walkable areas of the city. Mid City West PLUM Committee members offered suggestions to improve transportation options and reduced traffic. They also stressed the importance of keeping local neighborhood-serving businesses intact where ever possible and encouraging a greater variety of retail businesses.
Virtually all the speakers advocated for a permanent space for Andre’s, the beloved Italian restaurant that opened in the mall in 1963. Several speakers offered personal stories illustrating how the staff at the reasonably-priced family restaurant cared for their customers. Andre’s owner Aron Celnick told the Buzz that he’d like to see the shopping center improved, but he also wants to make sure there’s a place for his business – the only one that’s been there almost since the beginning.
“I’d like the landlord to give Andre’s at least the same consideration and courtesy he gives to Whole Food, CVS and Citibank,” said Celnick. “I’d just like for Andre’s to be shown a little love and respect fro the many years of being a part of the Town & Country Shopping Center and the diverse community that it serves.”
Karen Hollis, Assistant Principal at Hancock Park Elementary and a member of the Mid City West Community Council, gave a slide presentation outlining the concerns of the school community. In addition to the list of potential health impacts of a large construction project, Hollis said the school is worried about privacy and the security of students in such close proximity to a large building towering over their playground. She outlined traffic concerns as well as concerns that the school’s boundaries would have to change if too many children moved into the neighborhood. As a mitigation, Hollis suggested that the developer instead consider building affordable senior housing, which is greatly needed in the area.
A spokesman for the developer told the Buzz that they are meeting with school officials tomorrow to talk through their concerns and find a way to work with the school, which they described as a unique stakeholder in this area.
Emma Howard, Senior Planning Deputy for Council Member David Ryu, told the community that her office supported a complete environmental review of the process, which she said the developer had agreed to undertake. She said the Planning Department had assigned planner Luciralia Ibarra and a case number (DIR 2018-2770 SPR) to the project so residents can continue to submit comments.