The Mar Vista Community Council voted to oppose the construction of a high-density project on the site of a former fire station on September 25th.
The former Los Angeles Fire Station No. 62, near the intersection of Charnock Road and Centinela Avenue, has been closed since a new Mar Vista fire station opened at Inglewood and Venice Boulevards late last year. Now that the old station is vacant, residents have been considering what would be the best use for the structure.
The community board rejected an offer by a developer, Marianne Brown, to build a four-story mixed-use development at the site of the old Station 62. The proposed project’s size, scope and density are what concerned the council the most, said Ken Alpern, the council’s co-chair of the Planning and Land Use Committee.
“We were willing to work with a developer to help create a project that would be beneficial to the community, but we do not want a mega-development,” Alpern said in an interview after the measure to reject the developer’s proposal had passed. “The size and scale of the project was just too dense.”
An ad hoc committee was formed to study and review the proposed development and it delivered its findings to the council for its decision.
The board’s opposition to the project also covers any development that would require a zone change at the site of the former station.
At a community meeting in August, several residents offered a variety of possible uses for the site, including affordable housing, a position that Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Mar Vista, strongly advocates.
June Harris came to inquire about the possibility of converting the fire station into affordable housing for the elderly.
“I’ve worked all my life, and although I have a pretty good income, I can’t find [a suitable place] to live,” she said. “I need affordable housing, and there’s no help for the average retired person.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who like Rosendahl is an advocate for more affordable housing, recently unveiled a plan to provide 20,000 units over a five-year period.
“Los Angeles is the least affordable big city in America,” the mayor said at a press conference last month.
Villaraigosa’s plan would cost approximately $5 billion.
Rosendahl, who lives a few blocks from the proposed project site, said that he respects Mar Vista’s decision in rejecting the developer’s proposal.
“I’m encouraged that they decided to take a proactive stance,” he said.
In an earlier interview, Alpern said that he would prefer a community center at the site, but is willing to discuss a smaller version of a mixed-use development there with a housing component.
“I think that people would be willing to consider a smaller development that would not transform the neighborhood,” he said.
Many of the speakers at the August meeting indicated that parking and especially traffic on Centinela Avenue were a major concern for them, and any new large-scale development could exacerbate an already existing hardship.
Judith Deutsch wanted city officials to consider that there is very little parking for a housing complex at the site, and that there may be better uses for the building.
“I think that the space would be better used for community services, like a daycare center perhaps, or a nonprofit organization in the area,” she suggested. “I think that it could be combined with a nice park area which would give us beauty and take away some of the traffic problems.”
Rosendahl said that he was able to convince Villaraigosa not to sell the property during the city’s negotiations to close the budget deficit and that the building was now part of the Housing Trust Fund, which was created by the City Council in 2002.
“There are certain requirements that must be adhered to because that building is a part of the Housing Trust Fund,” Rosendahl said.
Tina Pollard, who lives on Ocean View Avenue, applauded the council’s decision to reject the development.
“You don’t need another business or another apartment building there,” Pollard said.
Rosendahl, who attended the August meeting, said that he would like to see an affordable housing complex there, but will listen to his constituents’ viewpoints on the matter.
“I listen to my neighbors,” the councilman said. “I will not move forward in any way until the committee takes a position.”
Pollard, who grew up in Mar Vista and has lived in the community her entire life, would like to see a community-serving complex built at the site, as would many of her neighbors.
“Maybe an elderly care center, or a police drop-in center,” Pollard, a real estate agent, recommended.
Rosendahl said that he would explore other options for affordable housing elsewhere for Mar Vista residents and his constituents of the 11th District who are in need of such lodging.
“One possibility is the old fire station on Manchester Avenue in Westchester,” the councilman said, referring to the former station No. 5. “I will also be exploring the possibility with the mayor of a land swap somewhere on the Westside, and I would like to see if there is any flexibility in the Housing Trust Fund.”
Alpern believes that any developer who approaches his board must take into account the neighborhood’s desire not to have a project that has a large density.
“Developers really need to control their urges sometimes,” he said. He also feels that because Brown was not willing to compromise on the size of the proposal, that sealed the fate of the project and could do the same for future developments of that size.
“I think that they may have killed an otherwise reasonable compromise,” Alpern stated.
Pollard, who had a fire at her home three years ago, said that her first choice would be to maintain the building as a landmark, but she realizes that is not a possibility anymore.
Rosendahl said that his constituents should know that no development would be built on the site of the old fire station without resident input, and that the process of choosing the best use for the site was just beginning.
“We are still in the early stages, we’re still in the beginning of the process,” he stressed. “And I can assure everyone that it will be an open and transparent process.”