Two years of traffic studies, architectural reports and community meetings have resulted in a sweeping new zoning plan for Westwood that could cut allowable growth and encourage new student and faculty housing near the UCLA campus.
The plan, the most comprehensive ever attempted by Los Angeles city planners, is the first part of a two-pronged effort to deal with Westwood's soaring growth and worsening traffic congestion, city planner Dan Scott said. A second plan, addressing only Westwood Village, is due out later this month, he said.
The long-awaited community plan would reduce allowable construction in the Wilshire Boulevard commercial core and in North Westwood Village--two areas of longtime controversy over growth and planning--as well as in residential areas south of Wilshire and east of the village.
As the plan moves toward public hearings this spring and a possible City Council vote in June, it is expected to test the political will of developers and homeowners who have long battled over lucrative Westwood real estate. Developers contend the plan threatens to unfairly restrict the rights of property owners. Homeowners say it does not go far enough toward curbing traffic and protecting the flavor of neighborhoods built during the 1920s and 1930s.
Concerned About Omissions
"We're not concerned with what the plan addresses, we're concerned with what it does not address," said Laura Lake, president of Friends of Westwood, an environmental group formed in response to growth issues. Lake criticized the plan for failing to tighten limits on development along Westwood Boulevard and along eastern portions of Wilshire Boulevard which are lined with high-rise condominiums.
The plan is "a step in the right direction," she said. "But we want clear language that protects the community."
Meanwhile, Dori Pye, president of the Los Angeles West Chamber of Commerce, has vowed to fight portions of the plan that could affect new construction in the Wilshire commercial core. That area--plagued by some of the worst traffic congestion in the city--has long been a rallying point for Westwood growth issues.
Current zoning in the Wilshire core allows the heaviest commercial development outside of downtown Los Angeles. In 1984, Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky tried to tighten development limits by proposing a moratorium on high-rise offices. The measure turned Wilshire into a political battleground, fostering heavy lobbying efforts by developers and a dramatic rejection of the plan by the City Council.
The new plan, which would effectively place a 12-story limit on a building that otherwise could contain 20 stories, mirrors the 1984 moratorium proposal. In the meantime, however, three new high-rises have risen on the Wilshire skyline.
"We defeated the proposal before, and they're bringing it up again," Pye said. "I think it is a little bit obscene, frankly. I don't support it or approve of it at all."
Yaroslavsky conceded the measure comes to late to stop the three high-rises now under construction, which will boost the commercial space on the four-block commercial core of Wilshire from 2.2 million to nearly 3 million square feet. But the plan, he said, is directed at two other sites that could accommodate similar towers of 20 stories or more.
One is the former Ship's restaurant site, where owner Kam Hekmat has cleared ground for a 26-story office tower. That project is being challenged in a lawsuit by Friends of Westwood, which contends an environmental study should have been made. If homeowners win the lawsuit, Hekmat would be forced to reapply for a city building permit.
That would give Yaroslavsky a second chance to scale down the project. The new community plan would cut its size nearly in half.
"If they win," Hekmat said of the lawsuit, "we will indicate to the authorities the unfairness of (the zoning plan). It would seem to be singling out our project.
"But we are confident we will prevail in the lawsuit."
The second site, Yaroslavsky said, contains the 12-story Lindy Medical Building, built in 1962. That relatively large lot could be redeveloped under present zoning into a building two or three times the size of the present structure, Yaroslavsky said.
"I don't think there's any doubt that, over a period of time, the people who own it would want to redevelop it," the councilman said. "I expect the owners . . . to fight" to keep their existing zoning.
Building owner Richard Zimon said he has no immediate plans to redevelop the site and he has yet to study the new community plan. "Obviously we're not happy when valuable property rights are taken away," he said. "But I really haven't focused on it."
Other buildings on the boulevard also are below allowable limits, creating a threat of additional redevelopment unless those limits are tightened, planner Scott said. Although the plan may not affect many properties in the near future, he said, "we're thinking of 20, 30 years down the line. The potential (for growth) is there."