Howard Hughes Center developers won approval last week from the Los Angeles City Planning Commission for exchanging 600 future hotel rooms for the right to build 600 new homes on the site.

Arden Realty Limited Partnership — developers of the Howard Hughes Center near the junction of the San Diego Freeway (I-405) and the Marina Freeway (State Route 90) in Westchester — won unanimous approval from the commission for the right to develop 600 new Westchester homes in the center, rather than 600 hotel rooms that had been included in earlier plans for the center.

Howard Hughes Center currently does not have any hotel uses and Arden Realty officials say they currently do not have any plans to construct a hotel in the center.

Arden Realty requested the change as part of a second amendment to the 1986 Howard Hughes Center development agreement with the city that included future hotel uses.

The first amendment took place in 1998 and involved building the Promenade, a retail commercial building that includes theaters, restaurants and retail stores, at Howard Hughes Center.

“What we requested was flexibility to assess the market in order to develop a master plan in the future,” said Chris Barton, Arden Realty vice president of development.

The vote Thursday, September 9th, sends the request to the Los Angeles City Council Planning and Land Use Management Committee for approval and then to the full Los Angeles City Council for final consideration.

“No specific plans to do anything are in the works. The entitlement process will probably take nine months,” Barton said.

The 69-acre project site is primarily zoned for commercial use with Linear Park and Triangle Park zoned for residential use.

Arden Realty said at a Monday, July 19th, public hearing that the company wanted “the potential development of up to 600 residential dwelling units in exchange for a reduction on a one-for-one basis in the number of hotel guest rooms allowed to be constructed.”

At last week’s planning commission meeting, Barton cited a weak hotel market since the 2001 terrorist attacks and said the residential market is on the rise.

The development agreement may still allow Arden Realty to build a hotel.

“Office/retail space may be exchanged for additional hotel rooms and hotel rooms may be exchanged for residential units up to a maximum of 600 residential units,” the agreement states.

The planning commission also approved a November 4th, 2011, extension to the development agreement, which would have expired in 2006.

The Westchester Neighbors Association will not support Arden Realty plans until the company gives the community group more information.

“They got a five-year extension and we still don’t know for sure what they will be doing,” said Denny Schneider, an association board member.

“Arden Realty is working with the city to provide a public benefit. We are also working with the neighbors throughout the whole process,” Barton said.

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