A newly minted amended agreement for a mixed-use development project at the Howard Hughes Center in Westchester has the parties involved calling it a deal where nearly everyone appeared to be satisfied.
Equity Office, a commercial real estate firm, was awarded a modified development contract by the Los Angeles City Council Sept. 27 that will allow the company more time to implement a change of use at the site in the commercial shopping center in the future.
A new ordinance was drafted by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office to include the authorized land uses at 5900 W. Center Drive.
Equity Office was also given a 15-year extension to the current agreement by the council. The initial development agreement dates back to 1986, and there have been various changes and reincarnations of the projects since then.
The developer plans to build a maximum of 1,950,000-square feet of commercial space, a 250,000-square foot entertainment/retail center, a maximum of 600 hotel rooms that could increase to 1,500 should the company seek to exchange 301 square feet of office retail area for each additional room, and 600 residential units, according to city planning documents.
The new agreement permits the commercial real estate company to engage in alternative uses on underdeveloped lots if market conditions improve, and the community will be able to provide additional thoughts on the types of uses to be incorporated into the development of the remainder of the site.
“We are pleased the city amended the development agreement for Howard Hughes Center to allow more time and flexibility that will enable Equity Office to promote economic development in the community,” Frank Campbell, Equity Office Properties market managing director, told The Argonaut.
A mitigated negative declaration, one of the least intensive forms of environmental review, was recommended for the project by the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee Aug. 2
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westchester, secured an affordable housing component at the project site as well as nearly $2 million in streetscape enhancements.
“These improvements will remove visual blight along Sepulveda Boulevard and encourage pedestrian activity,” Rosendahl said. “The developer’s contribution will provide for ongoing maintenance and ensure the benefit continues well into the future – critical during a time of budget shortfalls.”
LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Christina Davis said the chamber is excited that Westchester will now be able to repair some of its infrastructure.
“We’ve been very supportive of the project for a very long time, and it’s really an added bonus to get the street improvements,” Davis said.
Several sections of sidewalk along Sepulveda between Manchester Avenue and 80th Street are in severe disrepair, and these funds will go a long way toward fixing them, said Westchester resident John Ruhlen.
“I think it’s a very good deal for us and we’re very excited about it,” said Ruhlen, the secretary of the Westchester Business Improvement District.
The workforce housing was one of the most important negotiating points for him, Rosendahl said.
“I think housing has value, especially in areas where there is gridlock,” the councilman said, noting the heavy traffic patterns near the 405 Freeway exits by the Hughes Center. “(Equity Office) showed great partnership in agreeing to the workforce housing component.”
Rosendahl wrote a letter to the council’s planning and land use committee June 20, imploring them to remove an earlier proposal for additional workforce housing due to the fact that he was able to negotiate the $1.85 million in street improvements.
“I am writing to request that the committee delete a well-intended planning commission recommendation that would have unintended consequences for the Howard Hughes Center development: an increase in workforce housing,” Rosendahl wrote.
“I am proud to consistently demand the maximum amount of affordable housing for each proposed development in my district. In this case, I think the developer has achieved that goal and coupled it with an extra community benefit that my constituents and I applaud and appreciate,” Rosendahl continued.
“At my request and the request of the community, the developer has generously agreed to provide (approximately) $2 million to beautify Westchester’s central thoroughfare, Sepulveda Boulevard and for its long-term maintenance.
“This amended agreement will dramatically improve Sepulveda Boulevard, the gateway to Los Angeles,” the councilman added.
Ruhlen said the sidewalks have long been a major concern of the Westchester Streetscape Improvement Association, and the nearly $2 million windfall will be put to good use. “A lot of the money will go to fixing the sidewalks and landscaping between the fences and homes near Sepulveda Boulevard,” Ruhlen explained.
The ficus trees on the boulevard’s sidewalks, which many believe cause the concrete to buckle because of their deep roots, will be replaced with city-approved trees, according to Ruhlen.
“Ficus trees and sidewalks are not compatible,” he quipped.
The original number of affordable housing units will remain the same: 25 of the approved 600 would be workforce, affordable units. Equity is required to provide affordable housing at a rate of 5 percent for any residential unit increase.
Davis, a Westchester native, calls Sepulveda the “gateway to Westchester” and feels that the street improvements may entice more visitors to come to the Hughes Center as well as to the business district.
“I want people to drive through Westchester and be proud of it,” she said. “We need to do everything that we can to beautify our boulevard and make it more pedestrian-friendly.”
Rosendahl said the collaboration between different interests made the negotiations possible. “I’m very happy that there was so much cooperation and support from the developer, the community and the Westchester leadership,” he said.
Davis said everything came together at the right moment. “This was a win-win-win for everyone,” the chamber president said. “The stars were aligned and this was a very good result.”
The Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa had previously given its approval to earlier development agreements with Equity.
Rex Frankel, who heads an environmental organization that opposed the buildout of the project and who was considering legal action against Hughes, declined to comment on the amended agreement.