The Los Angeles City Council has approved a controversial zoning ordinance designed to curb the trend toward high-density apartment construction across vast portions of Hollywood and Los Feliz.
The measure, proposed by 13th-District Councilman Michael Woo, won preliminary approval on a 10-4 vote Wednesday despite strong opposition from Hollywood-area developers. It is scheduled for final council action this week.
Woo said the measure is intended to preserve single-family homes and duplexes in areas where current zoning laws are allowing new high-density development. Under the proposed ordinance, apartment developers would be required to seek Planning Commission approval for work that previously could be undertaken without city review.
The measure would affect more than half of Hollywood and Los Feliz in an area bounded roughly by Laurel Canyon Boulevard on the west, Hyperion Avenue on the east, Santa Monica Boulevard on the south and the Hollywood Hills on the north. Excluded from the target area are two of Hollywood's major planning regions--the 1,100-acre Hollywood Redevelopment District and the 155-acre Highland-Cahuenga Corridor Plan area.
Developers challenged the ordinance Wednesday because of its effect on 24 projects for which city building permits already are pending. Rather than receive automatic approval for construction, those projects, representing more than 1,000 apartment units, would be reviewed by planning commissioners to consider their effect on surrounding homes and streets.
Projects that fail to win support from the commissioners could be scaled down to duplexes, triplexes or relatively small multi-unit buildings.
Lobbyist for the Opposition
"Some of these people have already acquired financing," said Art Snyder, a lobbyist representing Hollywood property owners. Snyder, a former city councilman, argued in opposition to the ordinance. "Their loans are running. They're already paying interest. It's caught a lot of people with their pants down."
Wendy Fassberg, owner of WJF Development Inc. of West Los Angeles, said her 72-unit apartment complex near Vermont and Franklin avenues is typical of several large projects affected by the law. In an interview Thursday, Fassberg estimated that she has spent more than $100,000 for architectural designs, engineering reports and other requirements for construction in a neighborhood zoned for apartment development.
With the ordinance, she said, planning commissioners could reduce the allowable size of the project and leave her "holding the bag" for construction contracts she already has signed.
"We spent a lot of time and effort and money to determine our project was going to be consistent with zoning laws and the general plan for Hollywood," she said. "Suddenly this ordinance is on the horizon. The rules have changed. There's a real question whether we're going to be able to build this project. We've been caught in a real bind here."
Tool to Control Growth
Woo, who was elected last year on a platform of controlled development, said the ordinance is designed as a tool for regulating growth until the city can complete a new community zoning plan for Hollywood and Los Feliz. In those areas, escalating property values and efforts to revitalize the business community have created an unprecedented interest in apartment construction, Woo said.
Many neighborhoods now contain a mix of single-family homes, duplexes and apartment buildings. Homeowners are under pressure from developers who want to buy property for additional construction, Woo said, and many residents have complained about increasing traffic and the proliferation of large buildings.
In Effect 2 to 3 Years
Woo said a new community plan is expected to reconcile the forces of new growth and neighborhood preservation. He said the interim ordinance would be in effect for two to three years until a community plan is adopted.
"We can't predict what the revisions in the community plan will be, but I think it's safe to assume there will be lower densities than currently allowed" in the area, Woo said.
Although developers conceded that there are merits to the ordinance, debate Wednesday centered on efforts to exempt projects already in line for city building permits. Under a version of the ordinance supported by the Planning Commission, developers who filed plans on or before May 8 would be free to go ahead with their projects.
Snyder, the developer lobbyist, said he would not have opposed the measure if it had contained the exemption.
"There is a good argument, in general, for setting up (zoning) controls around a redevelopment area," Snyder commented. "However, in the way it's been done here, it's created victims out of a lot of well-intentioned people."
Infringes on Rights
Councilman Dave Cunningham agreed, saying the measure infringes on the rights of private property owners to use their land.
"Nobody has the right, from my perspective, to come in . . . and stop everything people have been doing with their property," he told other council members. "This body can be as tyrannical as any dictator."
Woo asked council members to eliminate the exemption so that pending cases could be judged on a case-by-case basis. Woo said undue hardship caused by the passage of the ordinance would be taken into consideration as individual cases are reviewed.
Such an approach could lead to many difficult judgments, Snyder said.
"What is a 'hardship'?" he asked. "Nobody knows who's going to be bankrupted by this and who is not. The livelihoods of many of these people are threatened."