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Rival Fairfax Projects Jockeying for Approval : Development: One builder seeks the city's OK for a major shopping mall. Another plans a residential complex and office towers less than a mile away. Fairfax District residents aren't sure they want either project, and positive they don't want both.


Steve Albert is upbeat. "You can't get rid of cars. You can get rid of the congestion they cause," says the developer. His firm wants to add 2,000 units to the Park Labrea residential complex and build two office towers and a hotel at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard.

Ira Handelman is upbeat too. "We believe (our project) will be approved at a level that makes sense for us and everybody else," says the consultant. His employers want to make the Farmers Market into a major shopping mall, anchored by Nordstrom, Robinson's and May Co. stores.

But the two projects lie within a mile of each other, and people who live and work in the Fairfax District are worried about the traffic and other problems that the future may bring to their neighborhood of small ethnic shops and quiet residential streets.

"We're not standing in the way of progress, but we are opposed to the devastation of the community, and that's exactly what these projects will do in the size and scope they're being planned for," said Diana Plotkin, president of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Assn.

"I care about this neighborhood," said Ronnie Gootkin, president of the Rancho La Brea Neighborhood Assn. "There is a special flavor and a special character, and it has to be maintained at all costs."

The homeowner groups are not the only ones that want to be heard. The approach of large-scale development has revived Vitalize Fairfax, a previously defunct association of business people, service agencies, elected officials and other interested parties.

"This group is not going to advocate development one way or the other. It's going to act as a sounding board," said its guiding spirit, Stanley Treitel, who is also director of the United Community and Housing Development Corp., a nonprofit job training agency with offices on Wilshire Boulevard. Treitel is also active in Orthodox Jewish circles.

And attorney Michael Feuer has set up yet another group, Committee to Preserve Fairfax, which is adding its voice to the debate.

"What began as a threat has become an opportunity for our group to actively participate in the shaping of this neighborhood," said Feuer. He said his neighborhood activism should be seen separately from his role as executive director of the Bet Tzedek legal services agency.

At stake are two major developments that were conceived separately by rival firms. But fate, geography and the workings of the city's bureaucracy have linked them together.

Both the A. F. Gilmore Co., which owns Farmers Market, and Forest City Properties Corp., which owns or leases all of Park Labrea and has an option to lease the oversized block at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, need city approval to go ahead.

Gilmore faces an easier job of it, since much of its property is already zoned for commercial development. Forest City needs a General Plan amendment and zone changes on all four parcels of land involved in its proposal.

Although Gilmore started planning its project years earlier, the two firms issued the draft versions of their environmental impact reports within one week of each other last July.

Weighty and jammed with maps and statistical tables, both environmental reports found that traffic is already at gridlock level at intersections in the immediate area.

Even if the developers try to deal with the additional traffic by putting in new lanes, left-turn pockets and other mitigation measures, eight intersections would still be overloaded, according the Park Labrea report.

Similarly, the Farmers Market report found that traffic would suffer significant impacts at six intersections.

Although the projects are being examined separately, city officials said they will make sure to take each project into account when they consider the other.

"We'll try to hold public hearings on the same day, if not at the same time," said Kei Uyeda, deputy director of the Planning Department. "It depends on how quickly the (final environmental reports) get done. If one gets done many months before the other, it would be difficult to hold the first one up."

The point, Uyeda said, is to decide on a "level of entitlement that the city feels comfortable with, and that is the issue that the hearing examiner, then the city Planning Commission, then the Planning and Land Use Management Committee of the City Council, then the City Council, are all going to look at. And, of course, the mayor has to sign off on it, so it goes through a rather thorough review process."

Predictably, the release of the draft environmental reports set off an avalanche of responses from the public to which the developers will have to respond before the final reports can be issued and the planning process can proceed.

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