High-Rise Boom Hits Hard, Fast on Olympic

April 07, 1985|JUDY PASTERNAK | Times Staff Writer

In a West Los Angeles neighborhood north of Olympic Boulevard, residents are watching a familiar Westside scene: the march of high-rise office buildings.

Since 1983, two glassy 11-story structures and a 10-story, two-building complex have gone up along Olympic in the six blocks between Sawtelle Boulevard and Barrington Avenue. A depression in the ground surrounded by a plywood fence signals construction of another.

This week, the Los Angeles City Council is expected to approve another eight floors of offices on the north side--the second high-rise on that side of the street and the first to encroach on the side streets' residential territory. At least two more large projects in the adjacent five blocks are in the works.

"It's a chain reaction," said Tom Donovan, a 32-year-old lawyer who has lived near Olympic for 19 months. "It's amazing how much the street has changed just since I moved here."

'Last High-Rise Outpost'

The fabled Westside building boom, which already has spread along Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, has come to Olympic. The one-mile Olympic Corridor is "the last high-rise outpost--and the fastest growing--of West Los Angeles," according to a local builders' association guide published this year.

With that sudden growth come strong and conflicting reactions.

City planners involved with West Los Angeles say such development was never intended for Olympic. They say the way it happened is a classic example of how high-rise construction has burst out of control in recent years, contradicting a policy of concentrating tall buildings in Century City, downtown Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley's Warner Center.

But Councilman Marvin Braude, whose 11th District includes West Los Angeles, said Olympic represents the best method of developing Los Angeles. Clustering skyscrapers in Century City, downtown and the Warner Center would be "a disaster for the city" because there is not adequate transportation between the three locations, he said.

Instead, Braude advocates decentralizing growth while being careful to keep limits on the size of high-rises in outlying parts of the city.

For example, the proposed eight-story building the council will consider originally was planned as a 12-story structure with nearly one-third more floor space.

"Olympic is a great boulevard," Braude said. "We have actually lowered the intensity permitted there. I worked very hard to see that it's protected and I'm proud of that."

In the one neighborhood that adjoins the Olympic Corridor, the residents--a polyglot population of elderly Japanese-Americans, middle-aged working-class Latinos and blacks and white young professionals--said mostly that they are confused.

An Angry Neighbor

"We thought there'd be some change," said Bob Seldon, a 32-year-old attorney who bought a town house near Olympic four years ago. "When we moved in there was a restaurant, and when we saw them tearing it down we thought maybe someone would build a mini-mall" with convenience markets and fast-food outlets.

He would have been happy to see a small shopping plaza. "We needed the stores," he said.

But the prospect of a wall of high-rise buildings just blocks from his home has left him angry and worried about traffic congestion on Olympic, parking problems on the side streets and the prospect of shadows casting nearby lawns and gardens into gloom for much of the year.

He and other neighbors last fall formed the Westside Residents Assn., an organization devoted to obtaining restrictions on the size of Olympic high-rises.

They say they can't keep the buildings out completely and don't want to. "It's just a matter of degree," Seldon said.

Zoned for Offices

There was little the homeowners could have done to control the high-rises on the south side of the street. In fact, there was little the city could do.

Those buildings were built in an industrial zone, where a plating company, an auto body shop and small manufacturing firms still stand. The zoning was in accord with the city's West Los Angeles plan, adopted by the City Council in 1974.

The industrial zone also allows commercial office development. A property owner there has no need to seek a zone change from the city--or even to inform the city--when an office instead of a manufacturing plant is built. No public hearings are necessary.

Braude says that offices were always expected in Olympic's industrial zone.

"It was generally recognized by everyone that Olympic is one of the city's major east-west corridors, with the lowest capacity of use," Braude said. "The fact that people are building office buildings here instead of factories, that's . . . an improvement. Everyone who was familiar with the area thought that was what was going to happen."

Different Opinion

City planners disagree. Said Donald Taylor, project coordinator for the West Los Angeles plan: "The plan didn't really intend for it to be developed that way."

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