Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) officials recently held an introductory workshop for urban design guidelines regarding the plan for 340 acres of land north of Los Angeles International Airport.

The LAX Northside Plan project that is proposed to encompass mixed-use space such as retail, hotel and office space, community/civic space, education/research/office space, open recreation space and a buffer. The property is north of Westchester Parkway, running from Pershing Drive in Playa del Rey to the east, at Sepulveda Boulevard in Westchester.

Other than Los Angeles Fire Station No. 5 on Emerson Avenue, a childcare center for airport employees and the Westchester Golf Course, the land under consideration for development is vacant.

LAX Northside Project Manager Lisa Trifiletti told community stakeholders attending the meeting that development is governed by the LAX Plan and the LAX Specific Plan, which established the zoning regulations and development standards. The Specific Plan requires that development comply with design and development standards written in the 1980s, and those standards haven’t received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval, don’t reflect current best-practice standards in sustainability and urban design, and don’t respond to current community and LAWA interests, nor to market conditions, she said.

Trifiletti said the goal is to get initial input from local residents to gather their comments on what they want and don’t want to see in the development so that the draft environmental impact report (DEIR) will accurately reflect their concerns and ideas for the project.

“What we don’t want is to present you with a DEIR that has predetermined projects. We want the community to tell us what is important to them,” said Trifiletti.

The update to the plan would substantially reduce the total amount of development that is allowed by the 1980s plan, with the original amount of 4.5 million square feet reduced to 2.5 million square feet, said Trifiletti. LAWA meetings and workshops have taken place for over a year, and the plan has been refined in several ways based on community input at those meetings.

One of those changes include increased privacy and security, with a buffer zone between the project uses and adjacent residences being increased from 50 to 100 feet. The buffer would be closed off to the public and secured with a fence.

Other changes include a reduction of height limits in Areas 1 and 2 – adjacent to Pershing Drive, Falmouth Avenue and 91st Street – to 45 feet and building heights in Areas 3 (adjacent to Loyola Boulevard), 11 and 12 (adjacent to Emerson Avenue and 88th Street in the eastern areas) to 60 feet.

No access from residential neighborhoods will be permitted, and access to the project would be limited to Westchester Parkway, Lincoln Boulevard, Loyola Boulevard and Falmouth Avenue. In addition, a location for a potential public transit station has been identified and included.

The vacation of Cum Laude Street is proposed to accommodate St. Bernard High School’s interest in expanding its existing sports field in Playa del Rey. Public pedestrian pathways will be limited to Westchester Parkway. Civic/community space and recreational uses have been increased, and could include soccer fields, a dog park and open space, said Trifiletti.

The proposed land use plan indicates where land uses could occur on the site. Trifiletti explained that the specific locations and orientation of the buildings and precise uses are not yet known and would depend on future market conditions. Regarding some residents’ concerns over the types of businesses or retail that would be allowed to develop, Trifiletti said officials would incorporate public input from the meetings.

One attendee asked about air and noise pollution from the development, and another inquired about what type of testing might be allowed if a research and development company was established. Trifiletti noted that the potential air and noise pollution, among other environmental concerns, would be dealt with in the DEIR, and said that no company dealing with toxic materials would be allowed to develop on the site. Otis College of Art and Design has expressed interest for some time about expanding its campus in the research and development area, she said.

FAA grants dictate how the land can be used today, said Trifiletti, and a fair market value has to be achieved. She cited an organization that wanted to set up a park and playing field on the property for a lease of $1 per year, and the FAA declined. The commercial usage on the site would basically pay for any open space used for recreational purposes, she added.

Architect Robert Hale, a principal with Rios Clementi Hale Studios, discussed some of the contemplated design elements at the meeting. He said outdoor cafe dining is being considered, as well as a pedestrian promenade. One attendee asked about the pedestrian promenade and suggested that a family-friendly bike path be included where small children could ride with their families and would be separate from Westchester Parkway’s regular bike path. Hale said he agreed that the regular bicycle riders on Westchester Parkway would continue to ride on the designated bike path.

Another component of the development is the stormwater project by the Los Angeles City Department of Public Works Bureau of Engineering. That project was proposed to be located near the intersection of Pershing Drive and Westchester Parkway at Falmouth Avenue, near Jet Pets. The original presentation was made in October 2008.

The project was intended to divert water from the existing storm drain system, provide water quality treatment and restore some of the hydrologic balance, via infiltration, that has been limited as a result of urbanization and increases in impervious areas (man-made surfaces that can’t be easily penetrated by water).

Work never began on the project because the Department of Public Works would have to pay just as the developers are required to pay to achieve a fair market value. Trifiletti said talks are ongoing regarding placing open space/recreation areas on top of the stormwater project (which would be underground) to determine a compensation amount.

“There are two separate public plans unfolding for LAX properties which LAWA has handled very differently. The northside development is a win-win where public participation was encouraged and the plan includes benefits for both the public, the city and the airport. That one is good and should be embraced,” said Denny Schneider, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion (ARSAC).

Schneider, referencing the LAX Specific Plan DEIR, which is expected to be released this month, said, “This other plan’s purpose is not to enact badly needed fixes and updates at LAX, but to expand LAX beyond reason. LAWA has continuously refused to release plan details and assumptions or even establish a set of quantifiable criteria for evaluation to be used in their DEIR.

“We expect that it includes onerous LAWA projects that will seriously hurt our surrounding communities and jeopardize the entire region. When released, I encourage all to treat that DEIR with the hostility and contempt that LAWA is demonstrating during its preparation,” he claimed.

Comments and questions on the project can be submitted by e-mail to laxnorthside@lawa.org, by calling (424) 646-5072, or writing to LAX Northside, 1 World Way, P.O. Box 92216, Los Angeles, CA 90009.

Information on the project, www.laxnorthside.org.

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