WESTCHESTER — With new support from Westchester and Playa del Ray residents, a plan to develop $750 million worth of office buildings, hotels, shops and light industry on 358 acres north of Los Angeles International Airport is picking up speed.
The Board of Airport Commissioners last week hired an architectural and engineering firm to do a comprehensive design for the proposed complex by the end of the year.
By hiring a single firm, Albert C. Martin & Associates, airport officials said they hope to obtain a uniform design. The board eventually will contract with developers to build the complexes.
Many Westchester and Playa del Rey residents originally opposed the plan, fearing it might increase traffic in the congested airport area, said Karen Martin, an aide in Los Angeles City Councilwoman Pat Russell's Westchester office.
Once Termed 'Unacceptable'
An environmental impact report commissioned by the board concluded earlier this year that traffic would reach "unacceptable" levels at the intersection of Sepulveda and La Tijera boulevards and at Sepulveda and Will Rogers Street. Residents also feared that motorists might venture onto residential streets to avoid traffic jams on thoroughfares, Martin said.
But those concerns have been eased by a new plan to construct a four-lane Westchester Parkway winding through the heart of the development, said Glen Kroh, airport assistant property manager. The parkway is designed to reduce traffic on other major streets and keep traffic off residential streets and away from Westchester schools, Kroh said. "Without the parkway, traffic problems would surely cloud the development's success," Kroh said.
The parkway stirred some concern because it would cut through the south end of the popular Westchester Golf Course, north of the airport on airport property. Airport officials have promised to replace the land needed for the parkway with a strip of vacant property east of the course.
American Golf Corp., which manages the course for the airport, said the new design would improve the course. The company has hired a golf course architectural firm, William Bell & Associates, to redesign it. The clubhouse probably would be moved from Manchester Boulevard to a new spot along Westchester Parkway, said Steve Hughes, who manages the course. But Hughes predicted that the proposed changes in the course will not occur for quite some time. "They have been talking about doing this for over two years," Hughes said. "It takes forever for something like this to happen."
Year to Submit Design
Albert C. Martin & Associates has about a year to submit a design plan for approval by the airport board. If airport officials agree on the plan and if the City Council and Planning Commission approve zoning and other changes necessary for the development, construction could start as early as next year, officials said.
Completion of the development probably will take at least five years because of its size and diversity, said Wally Jeong, an airport planner. "The project could take even longer, but we are trying to move quickly because the land has been vacant for such a long time," Jeong said.
Jeong, who has attended all public hearings on the project, said most Westchester and Playa del Rey residents seem eager to see the project completed in the hope that it might breathe new life into Westchester's business district.
Businesses along Manchester Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard in Westchester have suffered since the airport board purchased 3,500 homes north of the airport from residents who said airport noise had made the area unfit for homes.
The airport moved some homes to lots outside the area but most houses were razed, and now, more than a decade after the acquisition began, all that remains of the upper-middle-class neighborhood is a honeycomb of abandoned streets and alleys.
More than 10,000 residents moved during the vast acquisition, taking with them a large chunk of Westchester's purchasing power. In their absence, movie houses, grocery stores and restaurants have closed, Jeong said.
Several community groups have proposed uses for the vacant land, including new businesses, bike paths and a wildlife refuge, with no success, Kroh said. The Board of Airport Commissioners finally settled on the current project because it would provide thousands of jobs and bring in tax revenue for the city and lease fees for the airport.