Local business owners and residents met October 24th with the City of Los Angeles Planning Department to cite problems that keep downtown Westchester from being the inviting and productive business district that it could be.

The downtown Westchester Community Design Overlay District (CDO) public workshop was held by the Los Angeles City Planning Department at the Westchester Senior Center, 8740 Lincoln Blvd., Westchester.

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lanning department representatives Debbie Lawrence, the planning department’s community planner for Westchester; and Chris Koontz, who chaired the meeting, provided a review of the Community Design Overlay District draft plan text and maps and participated in discussions of the process, asking for input from community members.

Attendees were asked to provide input to the planners once they’ve reviewed the packet of information that was provided.

PROCESS; AREA COVERED — A Community Design Overlay regulates the aesthetics and design of structures within a set area, and gives residents, in this case, the opportunity to plan for how downtown Westchester will look in the years and decades to come, said Koontz.

The process was initiated by community members and the Los Angeles City Council as they identified downtown Westchester for a Community Design Overlay in the 2004 update to the West-chester-Playa del Rey Community Plan.

The Los Angeles General Plan sets the policy for the 35 community plans in Los Angeles, of which Westchester-Playa del Rey is one.

The area generally covers properties with commercial plan designations along Sepulveda Boulevard between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and 84th Place, bounded to the west by Sepulveda Westway and to the east by Sepulveda Eastway, La Tijera Boulevard and Kittyhawk Avenue.

The Community Design Overlay covers approximately 55 acres of commercial property, primarily fronting Sepulveda Boulevard and Manchester Avenue, including 87th Street.

A Community Design Overlay District is a tool used for a distinct geographic area to improve and/or preserve the quality of building and site design through the application of Design Guidelines and Standards, which provide guidance and direction in the design of buildings by addressing physical elements such as color and materials, landscape, faÁade and wall treatments and site orientation, according to planning department documentation.

Lawrence said the Community Design Overlay is an effective tool to regulate the design and character of development in order to prevent inconsistent, haphazard and unrelated design.

A Community Design Overlay becomes effective only after the guidelines and development standards are approved by the City of Los Angeles Planning Commission and its boundaries are adopted by the Los Angeles City Council, Lawrence said.

New regulations will apply only to new construction or remodeled structures, not to existing buildings, and over a period of years new buildings will have improved quality and existing buildings will benefit from new investments, said Koontz.

ATTENDEES’ COMMENTS — Some owners of businesses in the Westchester Triangle, bounded by La Tijera Boulevard, 87th Street, Manchester Avenue and Truxton Avenue, said the extreme shortage of available parking keeps customers from parking and shopping.

One business owner alleged that the parking shortage was exacerbated by a large medical facility nearby, sending its clients and employees to park in a free parking lot shared by the other small businesses, even though the medical building has its own paid parking.

The Westchester Triangle has between nine and 11 different landlords, and the challenges are clutter, narrow sidewalks, no defined style and unkempt properties, said one resident.

As the “Gateway to L.A.,” Westchester is underserved and needs “class A architecture,” along with financial input and value improvements, said a business owner.

Some meeting attendees said the Community Design Overlay was “a nice plan,” but that existing conditions, such as some businesses fronting Sepulveda Boulevard with a solid wall and no entrance, with their main entrance opening up to a parking lot, were unattractive and uninviting to customers.

Another businessman said he has made improvements to his business, but the location of a bus stop directly in front of it has caused numerous problems with graffiti, theft and vandalism.

He said he has asked the city to move the bus stop, to no avail.

Koontz told him that the city has no control over the bus stop, as it is in the purview of the MTA (or Metro, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority), and that that agency should be apprised of the problems and asked to help resolve them.

A local resident told the story of picking up an out-of-state visitor at LAX and taking him to a small restaurant not far from the airport. The visitor, not knowing that the resident lived in Westchester, looked around and remarked, “What a seedy area.”

The high speeds of vehicles on Sepulveda Boulevard, fears for pedestrian safety and the unsafe, broken sidewalks were also mentioned as being impediments to an attractive business district.

Another problem mentioned was that some of the businesses near the Westchester Triangle are not focused on direct customer contact and basically just take up space that could be used for attractive customer shopping and dining locations.

Koontz agreed that the Community Design Overlay could not force business owners to make changes in properties with different signage sizes and colors, but over time, some of the older businesses would require renovation, or the property would be sold and new developments would come in, allowing the implementation of the improvements under the Community Design Overlay.

The draft described the downtown Westchester area as “occupied with a mix of commercial uses, including boutique stores and restaurants, fast-food establishments, larger national retail developments and professional offices.”

“Development along 87th Street is characterized by neighborhood-scale local-serving stores and services,” the draft says. “There is also a considerable presence of medical offices and service uses found on ground and upper floors of the entire area’s buildings.”

“Signage along Sepulveda Boulevard and Manchester Avenue tends to be “excessive, bulky, bright and tall. Billboards are found throughout the area and often distract from the visual aesthetic of the commercial buildings and street improvements,” the draft says.

Koontz said the purpose of the CDO is to ensure that development in downtown Westchester reflects the overall vision of a cohesive, pedestrian-friendly and vibrant commercial district, creating an urban environment where surrounding residents can feel safe and enjoy walking to the adjacent commercial district.

A new Business Improvement District was established in January for the downtown Westchester area, with similar boundaries to the Community Design Overlay, with the exception that the CDO includes additional properties along Manchester Avenue north of the business district boundaries and east of Truxton Avenue beyond the business district.

In April, the Westchester Streetscape Improvement Association released its Sepulveda Boulevard Master Plan, in conjunction with the Los Angeles Department of Transportation and Council District 11.

The Community Design Overlay District is designed to advance the goals of the Sepulveda Boulevard master plan by requiring quality urban design, street-level pedestrian activity and increased landscaping and street tree planting.

GUIDELINES — The downtown Westchester Community Design Overlay District is based on the principles of compatibility, context, activity, interest and quality.

Design guidelines and standards include:

… site planning;

… parking and access;

… architectural detailing and articulation;

… massing and articulation of upper stories;

… mixed-use residential and commercial structures;

… parking structure design;

… awnings and canopies;

… security grilles;

… utility and service areas/mechanical equipment;

… fencing and walls;

… landscaping and “hardscape” improvements; and

… landscaping parking lots and structures.

FUTURE MEETINGS — The next public meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, December 12th, at the Westchester Senior Center after the public comments have been incorporated into the planner’s information, and public hearings will be scheduled in January on dates yet to be determined, with adoption of the Community Design Overlay sometime next year, Koontz said.

Information about the draft CDO, Chris Koontz, Department of City Planning, Room 621, City Hall, Los Angeles 90012; (213) 978-1193; (fax) (213) 978-1226; or Chris.Koontz@lacity.org

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