There was a rare standing-room-only crowd at the GWNC Land Use Committee’s meeting last Tuesday evening where two projects – 507 N. Larchmont and 800 S. Lorraine Blvd – were being discussed. Both projects were filed under Mayor Bass’s Executive Director One (ED1) which expedites the city review process of 100 percent affordable housing projects.
Concerned neighbors turned out in force to make sure the Committee heard their opposition though there were a handful of neighbors who spoke in favor of the projects. However, even those who support the projects expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed designs. Despite opposing these two projects, nearly everyone person who spoke at the meeting expressed support for building affordable housing in the neighborhood. They said it was the design and scale of these projects, both proposed to be seven stories tall towering over the adjacent one and two-story homes and commercial buildings, that was their primary concern.
Since the projects were announced, concerned residents have been combing through the project documents for ways to disqualify them as eligible for ED1. Emails circulated before the meeting that urged residents to come to the meeting to oppose the projects also warned them not to be “fooled” by the promise of 100% percent affordable housing.
In the case of 507 N. Larchmont, a 7-story building with 52 units and no parking, Larchmont resident Sam Uretsky wrote, “We’ve identified a significant loophole in the developers’ plans that may allow up to 13 ADU condominiums to be added and sold at market rates.”
CD 13 Director Community Development and Planning Emma Howard told the Buzz her office was consulting with the Planning Department on the spaces designated as rec rooms that could be later converted to ADUs.
“However, all the currently proposed units would be required to be recorded under a covenant prior to getting a certificate of occupancy and would only be allowed to be offered at set amounts for each range of defined affordable housing,” Howard told the Buzz in an email.
At the start of the meeting, Jane Usher, a committee member from Windsor Square, questioned the height of the building suggesting it only qualified for three additional stories, not four. She also raised the “loophole” question as well as the project’s eligibility for zero parking.
After nearly an hour of public comment, Howard was invited to address the meeting. To start, she said CD13 Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez supports ED1 projects.
“We cannot afford to turn down a single unit of affordable housing in the housing crisis we have,” said Howard. By speeding up the review process, Howard said, “ED1 has enormously galvanized the potential supply of affordable housing projects in the district.”
According to Howard, over 1,900 100% affordable units are currently under review using ED1 in the district. That number accounts for more than half of the total number of affordable units in the district.
Howard then addressed the zero parking issue explaining that this project is on a site that is permitted to have zero parking according to a new state law, AB2097. Regarding the height, Howard explained that again state law is guiding the bonuses the project can claim and likely they are permitted to build to seven stories.
Despite supporting ED1 projects overall, Howard acknowledged there are many concerns about the designs of these projects, including the lack of trees and the reduced setbacks that allow the buildings to take light and air for smaller adjacent buildings. She offered to contact the developer to see if they would be willing to address some of the issues the neighbors have raised.
While it may be too late for 507 N. Larchmont, said Howard, she urged residents to get involved with the development of the permanent ordinance, the Affordable Housing Streamlining Ordinance, (CPC20235273CA) as a way to influence the design of projects.
Howard said the city is already looking at ways to include requirements for more light and air and trees in these buildings. She noted that her office really likes the Livable Communities Initiatives (LCI) as a great concept for Larchmont. If implemented, LCI which calls for adding lower-density buildings with neighborhoods-serving retail at street level that promote greater walkability, would offer developers a choice of pre-approved building plans assuring a fast-track approval process.
“Email [email protected] and ask to be signed up so you can be involved in the process and get some of your concerns addressed,” said Howard.
The committee passed a motion recommending the GWNC Board “take action to voice its strong support for 100% affordable housing projects in our neighborhood and to further oppose this project at 507 N. Larchmont Boulevard until such time as the questions about the project raised in this Motion, including but not limited to the lawful bases for the proposed project height, zero parking and claim of 100% affordable housing, are satisfactorily answered.” (click here to read the full motion.)
Many in attendance stayed for the second hour’s discussion of 800 South Lorraine Blvd. Located in the Windsor Village Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), the project is proposed as a six-story, 65-foot, 100% affordable housing apartment building development, with a total of 70 dwelling units, including 24 studio units, and 46 one-bedroom units.
Dozens of residents rose to speak against the project expressing similar concerns about the height, scale, and design of the building. Most speakers urged the committee to oppose it as they did the Larchmont project.
Like the Larchmont project, residents said the Lorraine project is also out of scale with the neighborhood and it would block sunlight for the smaller buildings nearby. They also expressed concern about traffic given that Lorraine is one of the neighborhood’s narrowest streets and worried about the impact the zero parking would have on the neighborhood. One resident, Lorraine is a bad location for a building where residents don’t have cars because there is nothing nearby to walk to.
Of particular concern to residents is the exemption from HPOZ review. Even though the project is located within the boundaries of the Windsor Village HPOZ, established in 2010, it is exempt from review because it’s an empty lot that is zoned R-3 or multifamily. Had it been replacing an existing project it would not qualify for fast-track approval.
Steve Sapanour, a Windsor Village resident disagreed with that interpretation saying the building is an infill project and should fall under the HPOZ. He asked the council office to get involved and work with the neighborhood to reduce the height of the project.
John Kaliski, a Windsor Village resident who is an architect and served for many years on the Windsor Village HPOZ board said it’s critically important that the city examines the details of the project which he said contained several incompatibilities with other zoning requirements for projects and urged the Council office and the Planning Department to work with the developer to make the building better.
CD5 Chief of Staff Gary Gero was invited to address the meeting. Gero said he was filling because the office is currently without a planning deputy and he and Field Deputy Michelle Flores were there to listen.
“CD5 Councilmember Katy Yaorslavsky supports ED1 projects,” said Gero. “We have heard your concerns and we also have concerns. We have reached out to the applicant to see what changes can be made but in a lot of ways our hands are tied by ED1 or state law.”
Gero said Councilwoman Yaroslavsky recognized the need for the new ordinance to address HPOZs.
“We realize there are some gaping holes and we are working on ways to protect HPOZs,” said Gero. The codification of ED1 is moving fast so you should move quickly to get involved in the committee’s work.
“We need affordable housing,” explained Gero. “CD5 has the least amount anywhere in the city and projects like these are critical so we will continue to support ED1.
After the second hour of discussion, the committee voted to pass a similar motion urging the GWNC Board to express opposition to the project at 800 South Lorraine until “questions about the project, including but not limited to the project’s location in an HPOZ, the project inconsistencies identified in the City’s letter dated January 19, 2024, and the neighbors’ concerns regarding height, setbacks, building line, dedications, the lack of trees, the plan for trash, recycling and organic waste pickup, and the narrowness of their street, are satisfactorily answered.”
Brian Curran, GWNC Land Use Committee Chair told the Buzz he hopes people will get involved in the process.
“I think it is very important for the concerns of the public to be heard,” said Curran. “Many submitted letters voicing specific issues and questions. But as our last Land Use Committee showed, what people are particularly upset about is being left out of a process that will have a direct impact on their properties and community. Currently, the GWNC LUC and Board are the only public forums available for the public to be heard. Many supported the Mayor and Councilmembers who stated clearly that communities should have skin in the game.”
Both projects are on hold at this writing, according to a spokesman for the Planning Department.
Corrections: We incorrectly spelled Mr. Gero’s name and misidentified the project at 800 South Lorraine Blvd in our first reference.