A plan to add a towering residential and commercial structure at the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester has been downsized, according to representatives of the developers of the project.

As part of the 1986 master plan for the commercial center, Home Office Equity, the master developer of the property, was planning to construct two additional commercial and residential buildings of seven and 24 stories, respectively.

“After discussions with the (Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa) and other community members, a decision was made to go from 24 stories to 18 stories,” Elizabeth Camacho, an attorney with the Santa Monica-based law firm Greenberg, Traurig, told The Argonaut.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Planning Commission approved the expansion plan submitted by the developer, which includes the proposed seven-story building at 6040 Center Drive, which is slated to have 325 apartment units and 1,500 square feet of retail space, and the now proposed 18-story tower, located at 6055 Center Drive, which would have contained 275 condominium units.

John Hartz, vice president of development for Equity Office, confirmed that the larger tower has been reduced in height and density, echoing Camacho’s statements regarding community outreach.

“The feedback that we received from the community was to reduce the height in exchange for their support for the project,” Hartz said. “We plan to be here for a long time, so we thought that it was critical that we not only get feedback from the community but to listen to them as well.”

Hartz said that the 18-story building will now have approximately 225 units.

The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa has supported the project after representatives of Equity Office made a presentation before the council’s planning and land use committee.

“We offered our conditional support to the project after we discussed floor area ratios, traffic and CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) issues,” said Steve Donell, chair of the land use committee. “After discussing the totality of these issues and hearing that they were willing to take off the top six floors of the project, we were satisfied that it seemed like a good common-ground result for the community and the developer.”

While there appears to be more community support for the mixed-use project following the decrease in height and density at the 6055 Center Drive location, some residents are still wary of the buildout. Diane Liccardi, who lives across from the Hughes Center near the Westchester Bluffs, is pleased that the project has been scaled back, but feels that the structure will still be too tall.

“It’s a slight improvement,” she acknowledged. “But I think that it is too big for the character and the visual landscape of the neighborhood.”

In January, a group of Westchester Bluff homeowners called the United Neighbors of the Westside, issued a declaration regarding the project’s height and the environmental conditions on the master plan.

“At the present time, we feel that a new environmental impact report shall be the only suitable document to review the feasibility of the projects as proposed,” the group said in a statement. “A mitigated negative declaration is not sufficient.

“Additionally, we are of strong feeling that only 155 feet of total height shall be legally allowed on this project site. This shall ensure the protection of view corridors as promised in the existing development agreement.”

Rex Frankel, the director of the Ballona Ecosystem Education Project, disagrees with Donell that all parties will benefit from the project, and vowed to appeal the commission’s ruling to the City Council.

“It will still be the tallest building in the Howard Hughes Center,” he said. “(Lowering it to 18 stories) is no concession at all.”

Douglas Gore, director of the Pepperdine University business school in the Howard Hughes Center, believes that the mixed-use component of the development can be a possible draw for students and faculty.

“We think that it’s a good opportunity to have amenities with close proximity to where our students can shop, study and live,” the business school director said in an earlier interview. “We support the opportunity to make the center a more attractive venue for our students who are pursuing their education.”

Hartz says that one of the most important benefits that the project offers is the live, work and recreate element, similar to the concept of Playa Vista.

“There aren’t many places where you can live, work and play on the Westside, and we are trying to create that mixed-use feel at Howard Hughes,” he said. “We believe that the entertainment center could begin to have a different mix of entertainment options as well, with the addition of a mixed—use component.”

Donell said he believes that it is important to try to strike a balance between a developer’s rights and the community’s needs.

“As a council, what we have to do is weigh what we can legally achieve with what a developer can legally do,” he explained. “We have a duty to all of the stakeholders in the community, to the city and to the process.”

Liccardi said she believed that there was community outreach and residents had input on the project, but feels that it may not matter much in the end.

“It’s hard to influence City Hall,” she said.

City Council approval is required before construction can begin.

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