More than 100 homeowners showed up for a public hearing this week to endorse plans to reduce building densities and heights along a busy stretch of Centinela Avenue between National and Venice boulevards in Palms.
The zone change from R3-1 to RD1.5 would cut by nearly one half allowable future densities and would limit heights along the west side of Centinela to 33 feet. On the east side of the street, the height limit would be in effect between Palms and Venice boulevards. The rear third of most new buildings could not be higher than 25 feet to provide a buffer between the buildings and the existing single-family homes behind them.
Under the existing zoning, apartment units can be as small as 800 square feet of floor area. The new law would reduce density by requiring units of at least 1,500 square feet. The proposal would also require 2 parking spaces per rental unit and 2 1/2 parking spaces for each condominium unit in the area.
"Let there be no mistake that the majority of people who live in this area, drive its streets and breathe its air all share the opinion that continued out-of-scale development will have an irreversible negative impact on our community," said Gregory Thomas, spokesman for Homeowners Organized to Monitor their Environment, a group of about 500 residents opposed to more development in the area. "Our request for down-zoning is the only vehicle for controlling density."
The down-zoning plan will go before the city Planning Commission after a second public hearing, which has not yet been scheduled. It then goes before the City Council's Planning and Environment Committee and is subject to a final vote by the full City Council.
Although only a few new buildings have appeared in the area in recent years, Thomas said Centinela Avenue has been targeted by developers for future apartment complexes and condominiums. A Los Angeles Planning Department study found that 38% of properties in the area could be redeveloped under the existing R3-1 zoning.
In addition, the city Department of Transportation has determined that traffic levels where Centinela intersects Palms and Venice boulevards are "unacceptable."
About 20 people, most of them apartment owners, said at the public hearing on Tuesday that they opposed the proposal.
James D. Gustafson, an attorney who owns an eight-unit apartment building on Centinela north of Palms Boulevard, said the plan would hurt property owners more than it would benefit residents. He said only about 120 people would move into the area if it were developed to its maximum under the existing zoning law.
"The hardship that is placed on a few owners is so egregious as compared to the benefit that could come from this," Gustafson said. "There isn't really a lot (of land) that could be developed." He said there are about six lots that can be redeveloped under the existing law.
Gustafson said the proposed zoning would allow him to add only one unit to his building, whereas the existing law permits him to construct a new building with more than twice as many units as the old one.
The down-zoning proposal grew out of a moratorium on new development along Centinela that went into effect in December, 1986. The moratorium was sponsored by Thomas, who gathered 130 signatures on a petition, and was supported by then-City Council President Pat Russell.
Thomas said a condominium complex was built on Woodgreen Street near Centinela after the developer complained he had vested rights in the property and obtained an exemption to the moratorium.
"It's on the residential part" of the neighborhood, Thomas said. "That's what made it so bad. This was very much of a residential street. That's what could happen to Westminster (Avenue), and we're trying to make sure that that does not happen."