The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday, December 9th to approve the application of an area map for two additional high-rises at the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester, which representatives of the developer say will bring more housing to a growing Westside population.
The plan calls for the approval of two buildings of 18 and seven stories, which had won prior approval from the city’s Planning Department. On December 2nd, the council’s planning and land use committee forwarded the project to the full council without a recommendation.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westchester, told The Argonaut before the December 9th vote that he would be requesting that developer Equity Office Properties add more afford- able housing to the mixed-use development.
“I have had meetings with Equity Office executives and I expressed to them my desire to have more affordable housing,” Rosendahl said from the council chambers on December 8th. “I expect them to announce that they will be adding at least 15 units to the project.” The developer agreed to the change, which will now bring the total of affordable units to 25.
The project’s highest building was initially slated to be 24 stories high, but Equity Office Properties agreed to scale back the height and density of the building after consulting with various community organizations.
“After discussions with the (Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa) and other community members, a decision was made to go from 24 stories to 18 stories,” Elizabeth Camacho, an attorney who represented the developer, said in August.
The smaller building, located at 6040 Center Drive, is slated to have 325 apartment units and 1,500 square feet of retail space, and the 18-story tower, located at 6055 Center Drive, will contain 225 condominium units.
Westchester’s neighborhood council gave its conditional approval to the project earlier this year.
John Hartz, vice president of development for Equity Office Properties, told The Argonaut before the council meeting that he believed that his company had made its case for approval.
“We feel very good about our application and we’re confident that we’re going to get this done,” he said.
The project was appealed by a Westchester resident, Rex Frankel, who contends that the environmental documents for the additional towers are outdated and alleges that the two towers were illegally changed from open space to accommodate the new buildings.
He also dismissed the position that the neighborhood council has taken on the Hughes Center high-rises.
“They are not representative of the people of Westchester,” Frankel, an environmental activist, charged. “They have endorsed every big project in Westchester, as well as Playa Vista.”
Rosendahl cautioned that regardless of the outcome, there were a variety of things that would still be under consideration regarding community benefits that his office would like to negotiate with the developer.
“I would like to have money for the Sepulveda streetscape project,” he said. “There are also issues of height and view corridors to discuss, so in no way is this a done deal.”
Cyndi Hench, the neighborhood council’s president, said that the developer has not asked for more than what has been approved in its planning documents.
“They were given the right to build a long time ago,” Hench pointed out. “I think that the neighborhood council did the responsible thing by giving its conditional approval of the project based on the reduction in height at 6055 Center Drive.”
Hartz said that housing is a critical need on the Westside and the proposed residential units would help to satisfy that need.
“If you look at what’s at the Hughes Center today, you have the work element and the entertainment component, but what’s missing is a housing component,” Hartz noted. “Los Angeles and especially the Westside is in great need of more housing, and as it continues to grow, more will be required for the region’s work force.”
A group of homeowners who live on the Westchester bluffs that face the Hughes Center objected to the height of the project, especially the then 24-story building. They also took exception with the level of environmental review on the two mixed-use buildings, which consisted of a mitigated negative declaration.
A mitigated negative declaration can be used if a proposed development or project is found to have no effect on the environment, and therefore the developer need not prepare and file an environmental impact report, which is a much more extensive level of environmental analysis.
“At the present time, we feel that a new environmental impact report shall be the only suitable document to review the feasibility of the projects as proposed,” the group, known as the United Neighbors of the Westside, said in a statement earlier this year. “A mitigated negative declaration is not sufficient.
“Additionally, we are of strong feeling that only 155 feet of total height shall be legally allowed on this project site. This shall ensure the protection of view corridors as promised in the existing development agreement.”
Hartz said that his associates have done extensive community outreach and he feels that it has reaped certain benefits for the developer, Rosendahl’s office and Westchester residents.
“The result of that effort has been that it has helped the community understand who Equity Office is and also established a spirit of compromise,” Hartz said, referencing the reduction in height on one of the towers.
He also believes that the existing environmental analysis for the project has satisfied city planners.
“There has been an ongoing commitment to implement what has already been approved,” the Equity Office vice president stated.
Hench believes that it is too early to determine if the Hughes development will bring sufficient community benefits to the broader Westchester community.
“We need to wait and see what is agreed upon by the council,” she said.
Rosendahl said that he will continue to ask for Westchester community members’ opinions on what they would like to see at the Hughes Center as well as listen to what the developer’s plans are for the commercial shopping center.
“I am still listening to my constituents and I want them to know that there are a variety of issues, such as water and climate issues, that will be addressed before the full project is reviewed,” the councilman pledged. “This is still very much a work in progress.”