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L.A. Planning Panel OKs Fairfax Mall : Development: The 700,000-square-foot complex behind the Farmers Market is a scaled-down project.

December 09, 1990|MATHIS CHAZANOV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles City Planning Commission last week rejected a proposed hotel and office building as too much development for the already congested streets of the Fairfax District, but decided to let the A. F. Gilmore Co. go ahead with a two-anchor retail mall behind the Farmers Market.

Although spokesmen for some neighborhood groups said that a regional mall would be the ruination of the area, Planning Commission President William Luddy, who lives nearby, said that he saw it as a plus.

"Fairfax has deteriorated. Neighborhood retail is drying up and dying," Luddy said. "This isn't Disney's Main Street. There aren't ticket sales to keep it going. There have to be people going into those stores."

He said that City Council President John Ferraro's plan for the site, which calls for 700,000 square feet of development, amounts to "the least possible to still maintain an economically feasible project." At that size, the shopping center would be slightly smaller than the Beverly Center, one mile to the west. The developer originally proposed a project of 2 million square feet.

Luddy said he believed a 700,000-square-foot development would produce enough revenue to pay for the extensive changes needed to mitigate many of the effects of extra traffic. But Diane Plotkin, president of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Assn., said: "There is no way to mitigate traffic in our area."

She said city officials were hampered by "tunnel vision" that makes them judge individual projects in isolation from others proposed for the area, such as a major expansion planned by the owners of the nearby Park Labrea apartment complex.

Luddy denied it, however, saying that the Park Labrea expansion could lessen the effects of traffic from the Farmers Market project by providing much-needed housing. The Planning Commission also proposed up to 400 housing units for the Farmers Market complex.

Executives at Gilmore, a family-owned company that has owned and operated the Farmers Market for decades, had appealed to the Planning Commission to overturn an earlier decision by a Planning Department official rejecting the hotel and office building.

In its 5-0 vote Thursday afternoon, however, the Planning Commission dismissed the appeal out of hand. In effect, the commissioners adopted the recommendations offered by Ferraro in October, with modifications intended to increase the number of housing units to be built at the eastern end of the site, overlooking Pan Pacific Park.

"I think there's a consensus that the revised program of the Gilmore people is too high a degree of development," Luddy said.

Hank Hilty, president of Gilmore, said that he is happy about the Planning Commission's approval of the retail complex. But he said that he would probably appeal the rejection of the hotel and office building to the City Council.

"I still feel that a mixed-use plan needs to be considered by the city," he said.

The A. F. Gilmore Co. had 10 days from last Thursday to file its appeal, and the City Council would most likely hear it some time in January, a city official said.

In his comments to the Planning Commission Thursday, City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky congratulated Ferraro for bringing the developers, whom he called "intransigent," to the negotiating table. But Yaroslavsky said the project is still "outrageously oversized."

Yaroslavsky, who represents an adjoining residential district, called for a maximum of one department store at the site, but Ferraro said that he was convinced, "now more than ever, that we've made the right decision."

Under the provisions of the slow-growth Proposition U initiative sponsored by Yaroslavsky and City Councilman Marvin Braude in 1986, the developers would have been allowed to build twice as much as under his proposal, Ferraro said.

He also said that one of the two department stores proposed for the site would not really be an addition to the neighborhood, because plans call for the May Co. store now at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard to be closed when a new May Co. opens at the Farmers Market.

The existing May Co. would make way for an office building proposed by the owners of the Park Labrea apartment complex.

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