New plan for 340 acres along Westchester Parkway downsizes development to emphasize open space
By Joe Piasecki
Twelve-story office towers casting shadows over nearby single-family homes. Big-box retailers with jam-packed parking lots. More than 4.5 million square feet of new construction crowding out any possibility for open space.
This was the plan for the 340 acres of undeveloped land along Westchester Parkway that separates existing homes south of Manchester Avenue from the north side of Los Angeles International Airport — until Tuesday.
A collaborative effort by airport officials and Westchester community leaders under the direction of L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, the newly approved LAX Northside Plan Update cuts the density of new construction nearly in half — with 2.3 million square feet of development leaving room for plenty of green space, including a recreational walking path that connects to the beach, new youth sports fields and even a dog park.
“To a lot of people in our community, LAX at times has seemed like a big bully. But this has been a welcome departure from those days,” Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa President Cyndi Hench said. “This takes a better look at what the community is today and what their desires are.”
The LAX Northside Plan Update scraps the high-density office and high-impact retail uses on the books since the 1980s.
Instead, 470,000 square feet of neighborhood-serving shops and restaurants are slated for the land between the Westchester Golf Course and South Sepulveda Boulevard, essentially extending the Downtown Westchester Business District.
Adjacent to the golf course and east of Lincoln Boulevard is 175,000 square feet dedicated for civic use, such as a senior or youth center.
Another one million square feet of low-density educational or creative office space occupies the middle stretch of the development, with a landscaped open space buffer zone separating the new offices from existing housing along
West 91st Street.
That buffer connects to 49 acres of new recreation and open space surrounding St. Bernard High School and extending
to Pershing Drive.
All the way from La Tijera Boulevard to Pershing, a landscaped pedestrian and bicycle path links Downtown Westchester to the existing Waterview Trail that leads to the beach — a defining feature for the project, Bonin said.
“The 1980s plan was all about maximizing the dollar value of the land. This plan is about using it in a way that complements, honors and serves the community — and that’s a huge difference,” Bonin said. “This corrects something that was wrong for a long time. All of it was on the books when I came to office, and I wanted to make sure it didn’t stay there.”
Leaving the land along Westchester Parkway undeveloped is not an option — when the Federal Aviation Administration funded its purchase by LAX as runway buffer space, it required a fair market value development plan.
“The key is comparing the plan not to what’s here now, but to what was on the books until this morning,” Hench said during a Tuesday press conference alongside Westchester Parkway. “This has far lower car counts, more open space, space for community uses and all the building heights are down. The density is much, much lower.”
The LAX Northside Plan Update was developed over more than 50 public meetings over three years, making it unique among Westside development plans in terms of broad-based support.
“From a business perspective, we wanted to energize the area but we also wanted responsible growth, with the density closer to the business district,” said LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce President Christina Davis.
Don Duckworth, executive director of the Westchester Town Center Business Improvement District, said the potential for low-density creative office could help the area stay in step with the growth of the Westside tech industry.
“We have a very high occupancy rate in the BID so there’s a very high demand for that kind of office space, and we need it as soon as possible. Those kinds of businesses will raise the tide of the existing businesses. It’s a real home run for us,” Duckworth said.
Scott Carni, head of the Westchester Park Advisory Board, welcomes plans for new baseball, lacrosse and soccer fields on the west end near Pershing Drive.
“In a city that is so desperate for open space and recreation, this is a very welcome addition to our community. As the Westchester Recreation Center is at capacity, these fields are needed for expanding youth and adult programs,” Carni said.
Even LAX expansion critic Denny Schneider, head of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, backs the plan.
“I’m very excited to see it moving forward,” said Schneider, who expects the plan to reduce community angst over the incursion of airport impacts into residential areas.
“I think everybody got what they wanted,” Davis said.
A NEW ERA OF COLLABORATION
To say that LAX and surrounding communities haven’t always been friendly would be an understatement, but the collaborative process that brought the LAX Northside Plan Update to fruition signals that times have changed.
Geoff Maleman, who runs a local public relations firm and is very active in Westchester affairs, credited LAX Executive Director of Environmental and Land-Use Planning Lisa Trifiletti for running a game-changing public outreach program.
“She did an unbelievable job, and I want to make sure she gets the credit for leading an effort that really changed the way the community thinks of the airport,” Maleman said.
Airport officials also emphasized community collaboration continuing as LAX and the city get ready to begin a development process that could last years.
“Approval of this plan demonstrates definitively that [the airport] and its neighbors can work collaboratively to produce a result that benefits everyone. Economic development, community resources, and improved airport support areas will be excellent additions to our neighborhood, and we are all looking forward to seeing the work begin,” said Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners Vice President Val Velasco, who lives in Playa del Rey.
“Transparency and collaboration are essential for great airport community relations,” said Deborah Ale Flint, chief executive officer of Los Angeles World Airports, the agency that oversees LAX. “It’s really the nature of how the best airports in the world operate.”
Bonin wants to make sure the honeymoon continues.
“The airport casts a big shadow over the neighborhoods around it, but it’s also an integral and vital part of the community,” he said. “I’ve been on a mission since I took office to make LAX a world-class airport and a first-class neighbor. We’ve done a lot on the world-class airport part. This is about LAX being a first-class neighbor.
Staff writer Gary Walker contributed to this story.