The Los Angeles Planning Commission has recommended that an area of Westchester's business district be exempt from growth restrictions imposed by Proposition U.
Proposition U is a city ordinance approved by the voters in November, 1986, that cut in half the development allowed in certain commercial areas.
The commission agreed with property owners who argued that the district was actually part of an area not covered by the slow-growth proposition. The commission's recommendation would quadruple the amount of development allowed. The area involved includes 40 acres bordered by Manchester Avenue on the north, Lincoln Boulevard on the south, Sepulveda Eastway and La Tijera Boulevard on the east and Sepulveda Westway on the west.
The commission's vote was a setback for Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and the Coalition of Concerned Communities, who argued that the area was covered by the limitations on development imposed by Proposition U.
"This is a slap in the face to the voters of Westchester, of whom 70% voted for Proposition U," said Jim Bickhart, a legislative deputy for Galanter.
The dispute went before the commission because the city is under a court order to resolve cases of conflicting zoning regulations. Both sides had supported their positions by citing different parts of the city's zoning and General Plan for the area.
The council can overrule the commission, but to comply with the court order, the council's vote must be based on its interpretation of the city Zoning Code and General Plan, Deputy City Atty. Michael Woodward said.
"I'm not sure if the decision can be changed in committee," Bickhart said. "It depends on the historical record which is the basis for the (Planning Commission's) decision. At this point, it is up in the air."
Mark Ryavec, a government relations consultant for the Westchester Center Revitalization Committee, an organization representing some of the 60 property owners in the district, said that if the council changes the commission's recommendation, his group may challenge this in court.
Ryavec contends that Westchester property owners do not intend to build anything approaching the growth limits approved by the commission. But he said his clients cannot redevelop the depressed business district and make a profit if they have to comply with the Proposition U restrictions.
Westchester's business district began a steady decline in the 1960s and '70s when Los Angeles International Airport expanded to the north, displacing thousands of residents that made up a substantial portion of its customers, said property owner John Prewitt.
Both sides have said that a compromise is possible.
"We realize the good will of the community is important and that we will end up having a compromise, but we cannot (redevelop) under Proposition U's restrictions," Ryavec said.
Bickhart said the district should remain primarily a shopping area and not become another office district. "If the owners are looking for flexibility to revitalize their district, they should come up with a (specific) proposal," he said.
"The bottom line," said Salvatore Grammatico, president of the Coalition of Concerned Communities, "is that the community will compromise as long as everybody benefits, not just the developers."