Advocates and opponents of a plan to build two additional high-rises at the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester met before the West Los Angeles Planning Commission Wednesday, January 6th.

But the possibility of legal action looms over the horizon, a chief detractor of the projects has indicated.

The hearing centered on the zoning for the project, which has generated considerable discussion among residents, members of the business community and the Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa.

Before the commission was an appeal asking the planning body to overturn a zoning administrator’s decision pursuant to the municipal code Section 12.24-W, 19 and 12.24-T, 3 (b) for the approval of a vesting conditional use permit. Issuance of the permit would allow the developer a floor area ratio of 3:1.

The environmental clearance for the project, a mitigated negative declaration that was previously certified, was also under appeal.

The Los Angeles City Council approved an area map for two additional high-rises on December 9th, one of the last hurdles that the master developer of the project, Equity Office Properties, will need to overcome before it can complete its buildout of the commercial, retail and entertainment center.

The proposal includes a seven-story building, located at 6040 Center Drive, where Equity Office hopes to build 325 apartment units and 1,500 square feet of retail space. At 6055 Center Drive, the developer is seeking to construct an 18-story tower that will include 225 condominium units.

Rex Frankel, a Westchester resident who is one of the most vocal proponents of the Hughes project, appealed the December vote. Frankel, the director of the Ballona Ecosystems Education Project, feels that there are similarities between what Equity Office is requesting and what the developers of Playa Vista did during that development’s Phase I.

“The developer of the Hughes Center is falsely claiming massive development rights,” Frankel, the appellant, alleged. “Playa Vista has done the same in both Phase I and Phase II.

“Allowing them to build these two high-rises would be a massive gift to the developer.”

Cyndi Hench, president of the local neighborhood council, has stated that her council supports the developer’s mixed-use project in large part because Equity Office agreed to scale back its largest tower by six stories.

The LAX Coastal Chamber of Commerce has also endorsed the project.

John Hartz, vice president of development for Equity Office Properties, said that housing is a critical need on the Westside and he feels the proposed residential project is one solution to alleviating that persistent challenge.

“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 in an interview with The Argonaut last month. “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.”

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westchester, said that there was still much to discuss about the Hughes Center project.

“It’s still a work in progress,” he said.

The councilman secured a promise from the developer last month to add an additional 15 units of affordable housing, a cause that Rosendahl has championed since he took office in 2005.

“The entire project is still under review and that includes water and climate change issues,” Rosendahl said. “The developer has to be true to his word when it comes to listening to my community.”

Frankel said he was prepared to file a lawsuit to halt Equity Office’s development plans if the commission did not rule in his favor.

“We have an extraordinarily good case,” the environmental activist said.

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