Homeowners who reside in the Westchester Bluffs, already faced with the prospect of a large-scale development in Culver City looming in front of them, must now consider the possibility of another high-density complex that would be visible to motorists from the 405 freeway.
Plans to construct a 24-story building in the Howard Hughes Center and the request by the developer for two land use alterations have drawn the attention of local environmental organizations and a number of homeowners who live across from the retail and commercial development.
Equity Office Properties, the master developer for the commercial and retail center, is proposing a high-rise that would house approximately 275 residential units and a smaller seven-story building that would contain 325 units. Both buildings would feature a variety of amenities, such as a pool and spa, a business center and a community room.
In addition, two office buildings, with a total of 487,000 square feet of commercial space, are a part of the build-out plan at the Hughes Center.
The company is seeking the right to have a tentative tract map for condominiums and a conditional use permit to allow for additional average floor ratios spread across three parcels.
The City of Los Angeles Deputy Advisory Agency heard the requests in November and a written decision will be made soon, according to Sarah Molina, an associate city planner.
Equity Office representatives say that the build-out is part of the continuation of the center’s master plan, which was adopted by the Los Angeles City Council in 1986.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westchester, says that his office will be fully engaged in making certain that both the developer and his constituents are represented.
“My office is open to anyone who would like to discuss the issue,” the councilman told The Argonaut. “Right now, our Building and Safety and Planning Departments are reviewing the project to see where we are.”
Rex Frankel, director for the Ballona Ecosystems Education Project, believes that planning officials should consider an environmental impact report (EIR) instead of a mitigated negative declaration (MND), which is not as extensive of an analysis as an EIR.
“An EIR is the appropriate CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] document, not an MND, for this project,” asserted Frankel, who attended the November hearing. “It is claimed that the current action doesn’t increase the entitlements and impacts and so [the developer contends that] no new EIR is re- quired.”
According to Frankel, the 1984 EIR did not analyze or authorize buildings taller than 115 feet on the two proposed residential parcels.
“In fact, for the location of the proposed 326-foot-high condominium tower, the draft EIR map shows a road and open space. Therefore this new project is an increase in entitlements,” he pointed out. “With the increase in entitlements and building heights comes an increase in impacts, this increase in impacts mandates an EIR.”
Douglass Gore, director of the Pepperdine University business school, which is in the Howard Hughes Center, thinks that the new additions to the center can be beneficial to the student population at the business school.
“We support the opportunity to make the center a more attractive venue for our students who are pursuing their education,” said Gore.
Gore mentioned the mixed-use component to the proposed additions as 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.
The LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce also plans to participate in the review process.
“We have no position on the Howard Hughes Center project at this time,” said chamber president Christina Davis. “We will be reviewing the project next month.”
The possibility of having another high-rise in close proximity to them has upset some Westchester homeowners who live in the bluffs that overlook the area.
“The cumulative development that surrounds us is a very big concern to me and many of my neighbors,” said Myra Kriwanek, who has lived on the bluffs for over 25 years. “So there is definitely a need for more responsible development that does not negatively impact our quality of life.”
The Entrada Tower project site — a proposed 12-story, 176-foot-high office complex next to the Radisson Hotel — that is in Culver City, but within a few feet of the Los Angeles border, would be in direct view of many of the hilltop residents in Westchester. Kriwanek and many of her neighbors say that the tower would obstruct the northern view of many of those who live in the bluffs, which was a prime reason that some purchased homes there more than three decades ago.
“It’s really starting to look like an oasis surrounded by development,” Kriwanek lamented. “And it’s getting more difficult to get off.”
In the original proposal, the development, which was approved by Culver City in April, had been projected to reach 220 feet, with 13 stories above nine levels of parking, seven of which would be subterranean. A group of homeowners from Culver City, Westchester, Del Rey and Ladera Heights formed a public interest group called the United Neighbors of the Westside and filed a lawsuit to stop the Entrada Tower project. The case is scheduled to be heard early next year.
Rosendahl says he sympathizes with his bluff constituents.
“We’re getting bombarded on all sides in Westchester,” he noted. “Developers must realize that they must be sensitive to the community’s concerns as well as building a project that is economically feasible and beneficial to the community.” Rosendahl realizes that the master plan does entitle the developer to a variety of planning uses that they were approved 22 years ago.
“There are certain entitlements that have been granted,” the councilman acknowledged. “But I’m going to be very conservative in my approach to anything that seems out of the ordinary with this project.”
The fact that the master plan for the commercial and entertainment center was approved over two decades ago is something that Rosendahl says he will take into consideration before the matter gets to the council.
“The world has changed since 1986,” Rosendahl said. “The kind of gridlock that exists now is much worse than it was in 1986, so there has to be some consideration and some sensitivity on the part of the developer.”
Kriwanek says that she has seen the changes in traffic congestion over the years and is worried what years of construction and additional car trips can take a toll not only on an already heavily traveled intersection like Sepulveda Boulevard and Centinela Avenue but on the local infrastruc- ture as well.
“Traffic was considered a negative impact then and it has only increased since then,” she said.
Rosendahl says he will be meeting soon with all community groups and the developer to ascertain what will be best, not only for potential shoppers, employees and residents of the center, but for those who live in Westchester and travel through the community as well.
“All of us are impacted by this,” he said. “We will examine this process very closely and take it one issue at a time.
“I can promise everyone that I will be watching this project like a hawk.”
Gore believes that the potential for economic opportunities is a noteworthy component to the project.
“[The new additions] would bring in jobs that could stimulate the local economy,” Gore said.
Equity Office officials have touted the fact that the project would bring additional housing units to the area, which Rosendahl concedes is a very important necessity on the Westside.
“More housing is always a plus,” he said.
Equity Office has pledged to keep homeowners and business interests involved throughout the planning stages as well.
“We will continue to do community outreach throughout the project,” said Keith Anderson, a vice president with Equity Office.
Kriwanek is happy that Rosendahl has promised to stay involved.
“We look forward to working with the councilman, who has shown us in the past that he has the community’s best interests in mind,” said Kriwanek.
Calls to Elizabeth Camacho, the attorney representing Equity, had not been returned at Argonaut press time.