Massive residential project has Mar Vista council, Rosendahl worried
By Gary Walker
The Westside, long a desirable target area of many of the region’s top developers, is no stranger to controversial projects. But a large-scale proposed development that would tower over the area’s structures has Mar Vista residents as well as other Westside communities up in arms and could be the most attention-grabbing project since the planned community of Playa Vista.
CasdenWestLA, a mixed-use development with 638 residential units, a Target store and 160,000 square feet of leasable commercial space, is slated to be heard by the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday, June 25, and opponents of the project are gearing up to launch one last strike before the city’s governing body considers the project.
Located at the corner of Pico and Sepulveda boulevards, the immense project is slated to be between 10 and 17 stories, nearly four times higher than a vast majority of the buildings in the area. The developer is Casden Properties LLC, a Beverly Hills-based company. Its website states that it is “widely regarded as one of the premier developers of multifamily residential properties in the United States.”
Opponents of the project contend that the regional impact will be enormous for nearby communities such as Mar Vista, which is on the southern edge of the project area.
“The project as submitted is simply oversized for the neighborhood, too tall, too dense and too many car trips per day,” said Mar Vista Community Council Chair Sharon Commins.
The project is in an area that was long zoned for light industrial use but was rezoned by the city Planning Department, one of several maneuvers that Mar Vista Community Council board member Ken Alpern sees as disconcerting.
“City Planning sneaked this through and the Planning Commission rammed it through a process that is supposed to be legal and transparent,” Alpern asserted. “(City Attorney Carmen Trutanich) has recommended sending this back to Planning for proper environmental review, but (Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa) wants this approved despite all the Westside opposition, which includes neighborhood councils and homeowner associations that extend from Brentwood to Del Rey, and from West L.A. to Beverlywood.”
In a May 14 letter to the council’s Planning and Land Use Committee, Trutanich wrote, “I am writing to express the steadfast position of the city attorney’s office that the Casden project be returned to the city Planning Department for the appropriate environmental review.”
Despite the Planning Commission’s approval of the project on Feb. 28, Trutanich’s office expressed concerns about changes to the project that the city attorney contends were “substantial” and may not have been considered or addressed as part of the project’s environmental analysis.
Planning Commission President William Roschen said that CasdenWestLA “is going to turn out to be an exemplary (transit oriented development) project.”
The size of CasdenWestLA is also a major concern for Alpern.
“We’re talking about a series of 10-17 story towers dropped into a region that is, at most two or three stories tall,” he said. “We’re talking about 150 residential units per acre that is more dense than Playa Vista, or just about anywhere else in Los Angeles, in a land parcel dedicated to industrial and not residential use.”
The project is be located near an Expo Line light rail stop, and while city planners consider it to be a transit-oriented development, Alpern and others with planning experience and a background in light rail do not.
“Big-box retail doesn’t fit as a transit-oriented use and the project is just too big for this location that’s not in an established regional center like Westwood, Century City or Hollywood,” said Darrell Clarke, who like Alpern is a supporter of light rail and a former Santa Monica planning commissioner. “I’d also contrast it with the thorough detail of the city of Santa Monica’s plan for the Bergamot Station area, which gets into a lot of detail about making that district pedestrian-friendly.”
“Transit planning generally encompasses the area within a half mile radius of rail stations, putting the Mar Vista Community Council’s low density northerly borders in jeopardy of radical up-zoning,” added Commins. “The environmental impact report lists the impacted street intersections which cannot be mitigated. There is real concern Mar Vista residents will not be able to even access the station to use it.”
Councilman Bill Rosendahl and Councilman-elect Mike Bonin are both in opposition to the project, which lies just outside their district.
Alpern, the co-chair of District 11’s Transportation Advisory Committee, said Casden WestLA has the potential to have what he thinks can be a chilling effect on the future of Westside light rail development.
“If this is what Los Angeles is going to enact regarding mass transit and transit oriented development, I think this will turn off the Westside to mass transit,” he predicted.
If CasdenWestLA is approved, any site, including a recently funded Westchester stop at Hindry Avenue on the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Corridor, will be fair game for this type of massive development, said Alpern.
“We have to wonder what’s going to go up next to the Hindry station?” he asked.
Casden Vice President of Community Development Howard Katz could not be reached for comment.