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City Panel OKs Altered Project in Westwood

Some merchants still oppose plans for a downsized retail- apartment complex.

March 12, 2004|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve a $100-million mixed-use project in Westwood Village after Councilman Jack Weiss' office helped broker a compromise between community activists and multimillionaire developer Alan Casden.

The deal laid to rest most of the key issues that had prompted Westwood activists to sprinkle their lawns with signs reading: "Jack Weiss, Stop Casden."

But several Glendon Avenue merchants noted that one big difference remained. They expressed dismay that the planners voted to allow the developer to close a portion of their street for as long as a year, an action that they said was tantamount to putting them out of business after years of struggle to survive the village's weakened economy.

"I feel we're being stabbed in the back," said Charlie Chastanet, whose family's shop, Muriel Chastanet Fine Jewelry, has been a Glendon Avenue fixture for more than 40 years. "We're really disappointed that Jack Weiss didn't speak up for us."

Indeed, in a short speech to the panel, Weiss did not mention Glendon. Instead, he urged the commission to "focus on the issue of square footage."

"The key issue in the community has been downsizing this project," said Weiss, who opposed Casden's initial proposal as too large for the village.

The commission heard for two hours from Weiss, the developer's representatives and neighborhood residents. Then, with two members absent, it voted 7 to 0 to allow construction of a 446,700-square-foot project with 350 apartments and about 50,000 square feet of retail space.

The overall square footage was 15% less than the nearly 528,500 the developer initially proposed. As part of the revised plan, Casden also bowed to residents' request to preserve Glendon Manor, an apartment building at the site's southern end that dates to the village's early days. Howard Katz, a vice president of Casden Properties, said the developer would restore the facade and reconfigure the interior to make the apartments more livable.

The commission did impose some conditions on Casden to help ease the burden on merchants. Casden agreed to offer free valet parking near both ends of the affected stretch of Glendon and to post signs to guide shoppers and diners.

Casden's residential and commercial development will sit atop two prime pieces of real estate that run along Glendon, just east of Westwood Boulevard and south of Weyburn Avenue.

The resounding vote was a significant step forward for a project that has generated rancorous debate for years. The revised proposal is subject to appeal, and a vote of the full City Council. Weiss' support is viewed as key.

In November he suddenly announced that he would oppose the project. He acknowledged that his action was prompted in large part by the indictments of a Casden executive and 13 of his subcontractors on charges that they had conspired to make illegal campaign donations. Alan Casden was not indicted, but Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said he was a target of the investigation.

At the time, Weiss urged the developers to "go back to the drawing board and take the community with them."

On Feb. 12, the Planning Commission was set to approve the project, but, in the face of strong community opposition, asked Weiss to facilitate a month's worth of meetings between the two sides. An agreement had seemed elusive in recent days as the sides bickered right up until the start of Thursday morning's meeting.

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