Construction on campus refurbishing slated to begin in spring

BY GARY WALKER

After more than three years of planning, meetings and negotiations, Loyola Marymount University can begin what school leaders say is the beginning of the campus’ transformation into an academic institution of the 21st century.

The Los Angeles City Council greenlighted the university’s master plan Feb. 25, unanimously approving the 20-year campus renovation.

University leaders who are eager to begin implementing their vision for the Jesuit institution praised the consensus vote for the long-awaited planning initiative.

“It’s great news. It’s a great feeling to have it behind us,” LMU President David Burcham told The Argonaut.

The master plan, which was first announced in March 2008 by former LMU President Robert Lawton, seeks to upgrade LMU’s dormitories, laboratories, sports facilities and other campus structures and amenities. The city Planning Department gave the project the go-ahead Oct. 14, setting the stage for the council’s vote.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westchester, has been a supporter of the master plan since its inception.

“This has gone on for three years and it’s a great day to see that all sides worked together to bring this to fruition,” the councilman said after the vote. “I’m convinced that this modernization plan will bring huge benefits for the university as well the community in terms of jobs and higher education.”

Richard Hofmeister, who lives only a few blocks away from the university on McConnell Avenue, spoke before the council to signal his support for the master plan.

“The McConnell Quality of Life Group believes that the master plan before City Council today is the best possible outcome, and endorses LMU’s master plan,” Hofmeister, the neighborhood group’s spokesman, told the council.

Relations between the neighbors and the university have been contentious at times, due in large part to students attending parties in the surrounding neighborhoods. In addition, the proximity and noise from LMU’s recycling center, long a source of frustration with the McConnell homeowners, exacerbated existing tensions.

Mediation that began three years ago between the two sides helped pave the way for later compromises, Hofmeister believes.

“We’ve been working with the university for three years, and having that prior history helped a lot,” he said.

The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa also supported the university’s campus redo and sent representatives at virtually every planning meeting to speak in its favor.

David Voss, who recently returned to the local council after a brief absence, said the governmental structure that is in place created a venue for allowing all parties to be heard and have their differences addressed publicly.

“This is a perfect example of the process working,” said Voss, a former member of the West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission. “The system of the neighborhood council’s land use and planning committee that gave everyone the opportunity to have their grievances heard, and the number of planning and community meetings held on this issue allowed the university to hear and respond to the concerns of the community and are an important part of that process.”

Voss believes LMU “bent over backward” in attempting to allay the fears and worries of the vast majority of the surrounding neighborhoods.

“They made enormous concessions to the extent that even the most ardent opponents spoke in favor of the project at the council meeting,” noted Voss, a member of the Westchester-Playa land use and planning committee.

Erika Anderson-Kemmerer, who also lives near the university, was concerned about light source and glare that would be emanating from the university’s animated signs.

“I feel that LMU visiting with the various neighborhood groups was very fruitful,” said Anderson -Kemmerer, who says that she is satisfied with how her concerns were addressed. “In the end, everybody made some concessions and everyone benefited.”

Hofmeister’s group decided to concede some of its points of contention after university officials signaled that they were willing to make compromises on a number of the items that the neighbors brought to their attention.

Moving the university’s well-regarded recycling facility, which is near the property line of some of the McConnell homes, gave LMU a great deal of credibility during the negotiations, he said. University officials announced last summer that they would move the facility to another part of the campus and include it as part of the first initiatives in the master plan.

“The relocation of the recycling facility center was our group’s primary concern,” Hofmeister, an architect, said. “When they decided to included that in the master plan, we became more involved in the planning and entitlement process for the master plan.”

Student parking in the residential neighborhoods was a concern that was assuaged after LMU agreed to pay for two parking permits if a block of neighbors near the university decides to pursue permit parking in the future.

Burcham also spoke to the spirit of cooperation that was reached by the involved parties.

“The university and the neighbors have certain goals, and sometimes they intersect and sometimes they don’t,” the president said. “What was really gratifying to me was that both sides acted very responsibly toward one another, and I give Councilman Rosendahl and his staff credit for bringing the university and the neighborhood groups together in the same room to facilitate compromise.”

Anderson-Kemmerer said this was her first encounter with city government and the experience left her with a good impression.

“I wound up becoming very impressed with Councilman Rosendahl’s office,” said Anderson-Kemmerer, the new publisher of Los Angeles Magazine. “It was really gratifying to see how everyone wanted to work together.”

Voss said the master plan would bring benefits to the immediate community for years. “We will have a world-class private university in our midst, and that reflects well on the community,” he said. “LMU has been very good at providing shared resources for the community’s use and enjoyment.”

Voss acknowledged that there might be some who do not fully support LMU’s master plan.

“In any settlement, parties do not always go home happy, but they go home with something that they can live with,” the attorney pointed out.

Rosendahl was pleased to act as a broker for many of the compromises between the community and LMU. “This is a bright-light moment,” he said. “I saw a great deal of leadership through listening, and I felt that this was the best compromise that we could have.

“Not everyone is happy, but they have to appreciate what’s at stake here and look at the big picture,” Rosendahl added.

Burcham, who will be inaugurated as LMU’s first lay president March 8, said the passage of the master plan gives him momentum going into his tenure as president.

“This will be our roadmap and blueprint for the next several decades,” he concluded. “It’s a great dream come to fruition.”

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