A dispute between the Los Angeles Planning Department and the Community Redevelopment Agency over the degree of planned apartment growth in the Franklin Avenue area of Hollywood has been resolved with an agreement that would restrict development.
The agreement, reached during a recent meeting between the heads of the two agencies and 13th District Councilman Michael Woo, came as a victory for retiring city Planning Director Calvin S. Hamilton, who wanted less growth in the area.
The dispute had pitted Hamilton against Edward Helfeld, redevelopment agency administrator, and hillside homeowners against apartment developers and landowners over how many apartments would be allowed along the corridor.
The agreement reverses an earlier vote by the redevelopment agency's Project Area Committee, which had called for higher densities in the Franklin Avenue corridor to allow the development of new apartment houses. Although Hollywood's long-awaited redevelopment plan is under environmental review, the agreement is expected to be implemented when the plan is taken to the city Planning Commission, probably in December.
Woo's intervention in the dispute may signal further changes in the planning of Hollywood. In coming weeks, he and the two planning agency heads plan to meet again to resolve differences over the extent of planned growth in Hollywood's blighted commercial core.
"I saw this as an opportunity to establish a clear policy at the outset," said Woo, who has a degree in planning. "I felt it was important to be more restrictive in the Franklin area. If you commit yourself early, you won't have to react hastily later."
Woo's decision also reflects a change from the approach of his predecessor, Peggy Stevenson, who did not involve herself publicly in the planning process and tended to support the redevelopment agency's activities.
Woo said he agreed with homeowners who live just above the Franklin Avenue corridor and fear that unchecked apartment growth could add to traffic congestion in the area. "Franklin Avenue is such a narrow street," Woo said. "I think it's obvious that traffic there is a real problem."
Franklin Avenue is a four-lane street that narrows to two lanes near Highland Avenue. On one side are large, older apartment buildings; on the other side are foothills where houses predominate.
Brian Moore, a homeowner in the Whitley Heights area and president of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., hailed the agreement. "I think Mike's in tune with the community on this one. As a planner, he has to see that what was being proposed was a developer's playground."
Hillside homeowners, who have lobbied for years for protections against high-rise development in Hollywood, have won several major victories this year, including a City Council moratorium on development in the Cahuenga corridor and last week's city Building and Safety Commission ruling revoking demolition permits for the Highland Camrose Bungalow Village, a cluster of 13 old homes near the Hollywood Bowl.
Moore and other hillside leaders have opposed apartment growth in the Franklin corridor, citing traffic concerns and fears that tall apartment buildings would obstruct hillside views and clutter the area. Moore had suggested that density be limited to 80 units per acre on Franklin east of Highland Avenue, and 60 units per acre west of Highland.
But when the redevelopment agency's Project Area Committee--a group of elected citizen advisers--took up the issue earlier this year, it voted overwhelmingly to allow up to 130 units per acre.
Woo said he took the committee's vote "seriously," but ultimately decided that the lower densities should prevail. "I'm the one who has to present the final plan to the council," he said.
The higher densities were supported by a number of developers and pro-business interests on the committee. Bill Welsh, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, said the higher densities are essential to allow apartment developers to build high-rise units that would enable those who work in Hollywood to live there.
'We Need Development'
Welsh criticized the agreement on lower densities. "Hamilton's always been for less construction and less density," Welsh said. "A lot of us think that's the wrong attitude to have about Hollywood. We need as much proper development as we can get."
Welsh said he hopes the environmental study of the Hollywood area will conclude that the higher densities are more appropriate for Franklin Avenue.
But city planning assistant Michael Davies said he doubts that the higher densities would prove environmentally sound. "Setting them lower gives much more capacity for discretionary action," he said.
Davies said a "housing bonus" program could be set up, under which developers would be allowed to build 30% more units per acre if they provided more parking or open space or set aside units for low and moderate income families.
Although Hamilton was unavailable for comment, Davies, who was present at his meeting with Woo and Helfeld, said the dispute was more procedural than philosophical. "The primary difference is that the Planning Department requires precision in land-use development, while the redevelopment agency tends to seek more flexibility," he said.
"It was a difference of approach," agreed Dianna Webb, the redevelopment agency's senior project manager. "I think we're all looking at we think is best for the area."