College students, university professors and passionate homeowners were part of an audience of well over 300 speakers and interested observers at the Westchester Recreation Center July 28 for an update of Loyola Marymount University’s campus master plan that seeks to reconfigure the university’s physical structure and renovate its laboratories, dormitories and administrative offices.
A 20-year plan in the making, the campus overhaul is backed by a number of community organizations, residents and the local neighborhood council, as well as alumni of LMU.
Jessica Vargas, who graduated from the university this spring, spoke before the Westchester-Playa neighborhood council in March and again at the July hearing, held by Jeff Pool of the Department of City Planning.
“We support the community every day, and now we are asking the community to give back to us,” Vargas, who played on the women’s basketball team, said. “Please support the campus master plan to make our campus even better.”
Kathleen Flanagan, LMU’s vice president of communications, said listening to alumni like Vargas speak with feeling was very gratifying.
“We have over 400 alumni in the Westchester-Playa del Rey area and 2,700 in Council District 11, and it really shows how much they still support the university and the master plan by the number of people who stood up and gave their support,” she said.
Flanagan also noted that area residents like David Voss and Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa President Cyndi Hench also strongly back the master plan.
“We have worked with these community leaders for a long time, and it’s really nice that they spoke so passionately in favor (of the master plan),” she said.
There is skepticism, however, from homeowners who live within blocks of the university and are anxious about some of the elements of the master plan.
Richard Hofmeister, an architect who lives on McConnell Avenue, is asking that Los Angeles city officials that insist LMU address four critical items in its specific plan before granting the necessary planning approvals to move forward with the campus redesign.
Hofmeister, who along with several of his neighbors formed a coalition called McConnell Quality of Life Group, asked city officials to provide 20 feet of green, natural buffer zone around the edges of the campus, a 150-foot-high setback for high density dormitories, another setback of similar dimensions for “outdoor amplified sound” on all areas of the campus, including athletic fields and the creation of what he calls “a reasonable” timeline for the relocation of LMU’s recycling facility.
McConnell homeowners were engaged in a prolonged battle with LMU for several years over the university’s recycling center, which lies within several feet of residential property lines. Last summer, an agreement was reached to relocate the building to another part of the campus and incorporate it into the master pan.
Hofmeister, who was part of the negotiations with LMU on the recycling plant, acknowledged that the university has made compromises with the relocation of the center as well as with the master plan.
“The good news is, after years of several talks, LMU has agreed to move the recycling area away from our homes,” the architect, who was unable to attend the hearing, wrote. “We thankfully acknowledge this pending action, and other concessions in the 20-year master plan.
“Unfortunately, we have remaining issues with LMU that we cannot agree on, and we are gravely concerned about living with these issues for the next 20 years.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who spoke at the hearing, said university officials must make six more mitigations before he would be willing to back the campus redo, which he supports in concept.
“The recycling facility must be one of the first projects constructed on the master plan,” the councilman, who represents Westchester, told The Argonaut. “(LMU) also has to appreciate that the lighting from their (planned) sports facilities cannot go into people’s homes, and I would not only like to see the 20-foot buffer, but also an additional 20 feet greenbelt or vegetation island that could possibly be used as a jogging path.”
Sue Horwood, another homeowner who resides near the university, mentioned noise and possible glare from the planned scoreboards from LMU’s athletic facilities. She said a noise study this spring did not accurately measure sound from the west side of the campus, where she said the majority of the sound is generated.
“Studies of the athletic areas presented in the draft EIR used microphone placement that was too far from key athletic fields at Gersten (Pavilion, the university’s basketball arena) to provide accurate sound data,” she said. “Since Gersten is being used as a baseline for the future sports complex, it is important to get the noise study right.
“We believe that the current master plan study does not provide accurate data.”
The councilman’s other three items of interest include providing sufficient on-campus parking with a new parking demand analysis, requiring the university to study an alternate location for its proposed sports complex and what he calls “tighter rules” for LMU’s planned message sign and automated scoreboards.
“The language in the master plan regarding the scoreboard needs to be clearer and tighter,” Rosendahl said.
The councilman was also adamant about the recycling center.
“Until the move is completed, no additional building permits should be issued after the Life Sciences Building is built,” he asserted.
Flanagan said the university has five pages of concessions submitted to the planning department and the recycling facility is slated to be one of its first projects in the campus restructuring if all of the planning approvals are granted.
The buffer zone/boundary is still being debated.
“The 20-foot boundary is one issue that has been continually revisited,” Flanagan said. “We thought that we had taken care of that problem when we offered (McConnell residents) to build a sound wall.
“That, in our minds, would take care of the noise, which was one of the biggest complaints.”
Flanagan said the university is satisfied with its parking studies and it will be up to the planning department to determine if any changes should be made.
“Because we are not expanding our boundaries, every inch, every foot becomes more important to our utilization,” she asserted.
The LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce has joined other business organizations in asking city officials to back LMU’s campus renovation.
“Building a better state-of-the-art facility will create 15,000 jobs as a result of the master plan,” chamber President and CEO Christina Davis said. “We urge you to support the master plan.”
Despite his insistence that the university adhere to a continuing dialogue with community members and business organizations, Rosendahl said that if LMU complies with the recommendations, opponents of the master plan will at some point need to realize the benefits that the restructing plan can bring to Westchester and Playa del Rey.
“I’m optimistic that LMU will continue to be sensitive and appreciate the neighbors’ concerns, but also, the residents are going to have to appreciate that (the master plan) will enhance the value of Westchester,” he said.
There are two additional hearings planned before the master plan is reviewed by the City Council, which has final approval of the campus renovation.