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Bid to Expand Market Raises Concerns Over Traffic Jams

July 12, 1987|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

The company that owns the Farmers Market submitted a proposal last week to develop more than 2 million square feet of shops, offices, apartments and a hotel in a project that slow-growth advocates say will overwhelm the traffic-clogged Fairfax District.

The project is only one of several large-scale and controversial developments expected to be proposed in the area, but is further along than the others.

Submission of an environmental assessment form by the A. F. Gilmore Co. on Wednesday started a city Planning Department review process that is expected to lead to a series of fiery public hearings about the Farmers Market project, which has been on the drawing board since 1984.

"We look at this as the next battleground," said Bill Christopher, president of the Westside Civic Federation, which is made up of 12 homeowner groups.

He said the project, on a 30-acre site located at the corner of 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue, can only exacerbate the congestion and parking problems that already exist in the area.

Adverse Traffic Impact

"People in that area have been more impacted by traffic than anybody on the Westside, short of the people who live in Westwood Village itself," Christopher said.

"Are they going to be allowed to make a buck at the expense of the surrounding community? I don't know that we want it to stay just the way it is, but we want to look at a level of development that doesn't destroy the surrounding community."

Despite criticism and talk of a slow-growth climate at City Hall in the wake of recent passage of Proposition U and the election defeat of development-minded City Council President Pat Russell, a spokesman for the Gilmore Co. said the firm is confident that it can mitigate any problems.

"We're optimistic, but it's not going to be easy," said Ira Handleman, a consultant to the Gilmore Co. "We're willing to deal with the issues of traffic and parking the best we can."

He said the sheer size of the site, one of the largest relatively undeveloped properties on the Westside, would help mitigate the impact of any additional traffic because there would be more than enough room for parking.

The site also allows for internal roads that will help take the pressure off nearby streets, he said.

He said he expected some community support as a result of more than a year of talks with residents, but Diana Plotkin, vice president of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Assn., said the filing of the environmental assessment form came as a rude surprise.

"This is a slap in the face to the community," Plotkin said. "It's really going to be a test for the City Council . . . whether they're going to continue in the same old fashion of growth, growth."

The project originally involved the participation of CBS, which owns adjoining property at Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard. CBS dropped out last year, but Gilmore decided to go ahead on its property.

More Square Feet Sought

The forms filed last week asked for 2,012,000 square feet of development. This would fall within Proposition U guidelines, but is significantly larger than the limits of less than 1 million square feet that city planners proposed for the joint CBS-Gilmore project when the site was being considered for a Metro Rail station in 1984.

The proposed route of Metro Rail has been changed because of fear of a possible methane explosion.

"If now they're going 60% higher than those proposals, which themselves were based on improvements in the transportation system, we're looking at something that's outside the range of acceptable development," Christopher said.

He and Plotkin said they were concerned that CBS may decide to go ahead with a project of its own at some time in the future.

They also cited rumored plans to convert an old Ohrbachs department store at Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard into a shopping mall.

Rumors of Project

Albert B. Ratner, owner of Forest City Enterprises, which owns a major share of the Park Labrea apartment complex together with the May Co., is also said to be considering a yet-undefined development project.

A spokeswoman for Forest City said the company has no immediate plans to further develop its share of the 166-acre development, which would be a complicated procedure since all of it is zoned for residential use.

"In the current climate, no big development project is going anywhere," spokeswoman Joan Kraden said. "If it gets to the point where we're going to talk about changes, we'll do it in public."

All these sites are in the district of City Councilman John Ferraro, who was chosen this month with the support of slow-growth minded colleagues to take Russell's place as City Council president.

He was not immediately available to comment on the proposed Farmers Market project, but his aide, Sharon Kaiser, said it will be open to considerable public input.

Issues to be Addressed

"There are a lot of issues that have to be addressed in that area," she said. "Traffic concerns and parking problems."

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