Five-story, 136-unit complex on La Tijera Boulevard would replace former church and school

By Bonnie Eslinger

An architect’s rendering shows the complex as it would look from the corner of La Tijera Boulevard and South Sepulveda Eastway

An architect’s rendering shows the complex as it would look from the corner of La Tijera Boulevard and South Sepulveda Eastway

A sign of changing times for the once low-profile urban enclave, Westchester could soon add a five-story apartment complex of 136 rental units to its small downtown area.

Slated for 8740 La Tijera Blvd. — the former site of Westchester Christian Church and Westchester Secondary Charter School —  the building would contain only four fewer housing units than the controversial mixed-use TriCal complex greenlighted last year on La Tijera near the San Diego (405) Freeway, about 1.3 miles away.

Plans for the project submitted by developers CIM Group show a corner building with two levels of underground parking, three driveways on South Sepulveda Eastway, and amenities that include a pool and fitness center.

On April 21, the Neighborhood Council of Westchester – Playa’s Planning and Land Use Committee voted unanimously to forward the project to the full council with a recommendation of support.

Residents of the adjacent neighborhood voiced concerns during the meeting about increased traffic, potential parking problems and noise that they expected the development to bring to their area.

Committee Chair Patricia Lyon said the challenge for community leaders was to find the balance between the desires of residents to maintain the existing quality of life and the building rights of property owners who want to take advantage of the neighborhood’s white-hot real estate market.

“Westchester was the best-kept secret [in real estate],” Lyon told the audience of about two dozen people. “The secret’s out when you see the house down the street from you sold for so much more than you could have ever imagined.”

The median home price in Westchester has increased by 11% year after year and 39% overall since 2011, Realtor Stephanie Younger told The Argonaut in January.

Matthew Hayden, a planning consultant hired by CIM, told the committee the apartment complex would have a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units priced at market rates ranging from about $1,700 to $2,400 per month. A total of 212 parking spaces are planned for tenants and their guests.

The land at the corner of La Tijera and South Sepulveda Eastway is “a good place to provide housing,” Hayden said.

Members of the public and some committee members challenged that assertion during the approximately 90-minute discussion on the project, saying the area was already heavily impacted by vehicle traffic.

Steve Wood, who lives on Kittyhawk Avenue directly behind the proposed development, said the apartment complex was too big and that locals fear cars belonging to future tenants and guests would overwhelm available street parking.

“The parking is a huge issue with this. The overflow is going to be unbelievable,” Wood said. “Obviously I’m not for this plan at all. Five stories — there’s nothing like that in the neighborhood. It’s going to affect all of our ocean breezes.”

Donald Duckworth, executive director of the Westchester Town Center, said while local business owners respect the concerns of the neighboring residents, “housing [availability] in Los Angeles is at a crisis level.”

New residents could also attract new businesses that would help revitalize the area, Duckworth said.

“We think this is a wonderful project. It’s well designed,” Duckworth said.

Hayden and project architect Roger Wolf told the committee that they had already made changes to the project in response to community concern, including the addition of a 10-foot wide strip of land behind the complex with cypress trees that would function as a landscape buffer.

Another consultant hired by the developer told committee members that studies projected a minimal traffic impact from the new tenants compared to the number of car trips generated by the property’s church and school uses.

A traffic study concluded that the project would generate up to 508 daily trips — 64 fewer peak weekday morning-hour trips and 56 more peak afternoon-hour trips than during the property’s former uses.

Lyon noted that membership of the now-shuttered Westchester Christian Church had dwindled over the years.

“We’re no longer fooling ourselves that this was an active church with 500 people there on the weekends,” she said.

To gain the committee’s approval, CIM representatives also agreed to plan for additional guest parking on a corner of the surface area outside the apartment complex.

In response to concerns by some residents and committee members, CIM First Vice President of Development Jeff Columbus said stained-glass church windows would be preserved prior to demolition and returned to church representatives at their request.

No one identified with the Westchester Christian Church, which sold its property last year, spoke at the committee meeting.  A phone number listed for the church is now out of service.

Also not present at the meeting were representatives from the Westchester Secondary Charter School, which has operated out of church buildings for the last two years and is now scrambling to find a new site within Westchester’s borders.

During a telephone interview, neighborhood council President Cyndi Hench said residents are struggling to accept change at the church site — and in Westchester overall.

“To see the apartments coming in at the church is very difficult,” Hench said. “I think that it’s tough because Westchester has been really fortunate to be the last sleepy, single-family home kind of community. We’ve been found.”

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