The Los Angeles City Planning Commission has approved construction of up to three hotels containing a total of 1,500 rooms as part of the Howard Hughes Center, a 69-acre office and commercial complex under construction in Westchester.
The project--on a triangular parcel bounded by the San Diego Freeway, Sepulveda Boulevard and 74th Street--has drawn criticism from homeowners who say it will be too large and create too much traffic in a predominantly residential community. A spokesman for a coalition of homeowner groups said they expected to vote among themselves on whether to appeal the commission action to the City Council.
The commission's 4-0 vote Thursday will allow Tooley & Co., a Fox Hills-based development firm, to complete nearly half of the four-phase plan for the center. Included will be the currently planned hotel and 1.1 million square feet of office space. Under a formula drafted by city planners, the company would be allowed to build up to three hotels, by sacrificing some of the approved office construction.
Later this year, the company is expected to request a community plan change that would allow it to construct the final phases of the project, including 1.6 million square feet of additional office space, in exchange for installing traffic ramps on the San Diego Freeway.
Tooley General Manager Bill McGregor said construction began three months ago on Phase 1 of the project, a 16-story, 307,000-square-foot office building for which the company received zoning map approvals several years ago.
The complex is on land owned by Howard Hughes Properties and is being developed and managed by Tooley & Co.
If all phases are approved, the company would be permitted to build 600 hotel rooms and 2.7 million square feet of office space, or up to 1,500 hotel rooms with 1.8 million square feet of office space, city planning associate Phyllis Nathanson said. In an interview, McGregor said company officials have not decided how many hotels they wish to build as part of the 10-year project.
Westchester residents and an attorney representing Culver City objected to the project Thursday, complaining that high-rise hotels and office buildings would worsen traffic problems and increase demands on the city's nearby Hyperion waste water treatment plant, the source of several recent sewage spills into Ballona Creek.
Residents have argued that development planned at three Westchester sites--the Howard Hughes Center, Summa Corp.'s proposed 900-acre Playa Vista project, and the north side of Los Angeles International Airport--would cripple the area's road system, resulting in rush-hour gridlock at several major intersections. The Hughes center is just east of Playa Vista and just south of Fox Hills Mall.
"Our office is being swamped with complaints and concerns," Walter Hoffman, president of a Kentwood-area homeowners group, told planning commissioners. "The traffic situation is almost intolerable. This area has been an ideal location for families. We'd like to see homes being developed in this area."
Marilyn Cole, a spokesman for the Coalition of Concerned Communities, a group representing 18 homeowner associations, asked that no more development approvals be granted in the area until the city has solved problems at Hyperion.
Gilbert Archuletta, an attorney representing Culver City, accused Los Angeles officials of failing to prepare an adequate environmental impact report on the project. In an interview later, he said Culver City officials have asked for a 13% reduction in the size of the project and that they are likely to appeal the commission action if Westchester homeowners do not.
Planning Commissioner Robert Abernathy said he shared concerns about traffic congestion in Westchester. But Abernathy led support for the project, describing it as a sensitive approach to development that would result in important highway projects in the area. Tooley officials estimated they would spend perhaps $8 million to $10 million for new freeway ramps.
The ramps will enable travelers on the Marina Freeway to go southbound on the San Diego Freeway without exiting to surface streets, McGregor said.
McGregor, who outlined the project in an interview, said the company has taken several additional steps to try to meet the concerns of residents. He said the company has just completed work on a $2-million park, two-thirds of a mile long and 160 feet wide, that would help to shield the project from adjoining neighborhoods.
In addition, he said, the company has agreed to limit building heights to 16 stories, despite existing zoning laws that would allow construction up to 26 stories. McGregor said the company still plans to erect some type of unoccupied "theme" structure--which he described as a spire or monument--which could reach 26 stories.
McGregor said the project is designed to create no impact on traffic, which he called "an enormous goal for a project of 70 acres." However, he conceded that the development of the Hughes Center and surrounding major projects could create a general worsening of traffic conditions.