DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - With 472 apartments, the project known as 950 E. Third St. would be the largest development in the Arts District, bigger than both the under-construction Megatoys apartments, which will create 320 units, and One Santa Fe, which will open next month and deliver 438 residences.
The project from Legendary Development and Associated Estates is also drawing some of the biggest opposition to any current Downtown Los Angeles proposal. Already scores of neighbors and community members have spoken out, worried that the project’s design won’t fit with the area and that the nearly 22,000 square feet of retail space will eradicate the already limited public parking.
The most pointed opposition may come from Yuval Bar-Zemer, a prominent developer who also led the charge in having a judge dissolve the community’s former business improvement district. A letter from attorney John P. Given, on behalf of Bar-Zemer and developer Paul Solomon, states the city should not allow the project, in part because the entitlements are 13 years old, the units aren’t being constructed as “live/work” and the environmental review is “out of date and grossly inadequate.”
Dilip Bhavnani, a managing member of Legendary, attended a community meeting on July 28 to discuss the nearly 400,000-square-foot development just west of the Southern California Institute of Architecture. He defended the project, saying his design team has already scrapped the use of faux brick that neighbors previously protested. He also said that while the city requires a minimum of 546 parking spaces for his project, he is going to provide 922 slots for the residents and customers of the stores.
“We’re taking the community input and, following what our neighbors liked, came up with this concept,” he said.
A rendering he revealed at the meeting shows an A-shaped concrete and wood building, with metal accents and a connected breezeway, that makes up the bulk of the project. Three roughly 6,000-square-foot edifices would be nearby, one at Traction and Merrick streets, and two to the north on Third Street.
The opposition and ongoing discussion has prompted an extension of the public comment period. Input is being taken through Aug. 19. A city zoning administrator is expected to rule on the plan in the following weeks.
Bhavnani declined to discuss the project last week with Los Angeles Downtown News. In an emailed statement, Associated Estates Vice President of Development Kevin Hampton said the public discussion continues.
“While we believe that our current design represents a marked improvement over the original approval, we are aware that some in the community would like to see the project evolve even further,” he said. “We are a community-focused company, and we will continue to work with community stakeholders to address their issues and develop a design that will complement and better reflect the spirit of the neighborhood. We are excited to continue our work with the city to bring a cutting-edge, state-of-the art live/work development to the Arts District.”
The six-acre site has a tangled history.
In the early 2000s, the Los Angeles Unified School District proposed building a school meal production facility there. That was killed by a community protest, as was a follow-up proposal to house a mental health court on the property. Landowner Meruelo Maddux Properties then proposed building two 40-story, Miami Beach-style condominium towers. Those, too, engendered fierce opposition.
Meruelo Maddox Properties encountered severe financial troubles and in 2009 filed for bankruptcy. The 950 E. Third St. site was acquired by Legendary and its partners in 2010.
In 2011, Bhavnani attended a community meeting and unveiled initial plans. More than 100 residents and business owners turned out and called for more green space, communal areas and greater connectivity to the street.
The updated renderings revealed last month show a dog park, trees and two small patches of green. Still, the project exhibits a dearth of open exterior space. Approximately 60 letters of opposition have been filed with the Department of City Planning, many saying the development does not reflect the artsy, industrial feel of the neighborhood.
Gabrielle Newmark, an Arts District resident and board member of the Los Angeles River Artists and Business Association, expressed concerns in a July 14 letter. Like other opponents, she worried over the “live/work” designation, which she feared would create “apartments that would ruin the nature and character of the community.”
She added, “Instead of attracting the artists and the broader creative class that defines the Arts District, differentiating it from the rest of the city, this change would set the path for suburbanizing the neighborhood.”
In a July 15 letter, 20-year area resident Peter Rose wrote, “In all likelihood artists such as myself who depend on their living space for the livelihoods will be permanently displaced by the magnitude of this project.”
Architect Mark Rothenberg, who owns property across the street from the project, believes the presentations he’s seen have been “deliberately vague.” In a letter, he said he would like to see floor plans and a detailed set of renderings that show every view and elevation from each building, street and courtyard.
William Delvac, an attorney with Armbruster, Goldsmith & Delvac LLP, which represents the developers, defended the project, saying it meets all city requirements, including those for “live/work” housing.
In a letter to the City Planning department, he further stated that the developers listened to the community regarding “connectivity,” and that a public road was added that goes through the property, connecting Third Street to Traction and Merrick streets.
Delvac stated that even with the addition of One Santa Fe and the Megatoys lofts, automobiles drawn to 950 E. Third St. would not worsen conditions in the area. He pointed to a 2013 traffic study from Mobility Group which concluded the project would not create a significant traffic impact.
Bar-Zemer said meetings with the development team are taking place and he is “hoping for improvement in the drawings that will render community support.” He would not comment further until he sees additional designs.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014