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Panel OKs Plan for Housing Near USC

July 07, 2006|Stephen Clark | Times Staff Writer

Hoping to relieve a student housing and parking shortage near USC, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency on Thursday approved a $135-million project at Figueroa Street and Jefferson Boulevard.

The University Gateway Project, proposed by Los Angeles developers Urban Partners, would include a student bookstore, a restaurant and fitness center as well as housing for more than 1,600 students and a 770-space parking structure shared by students and retail customers.

If the project clears the city Planning Commission and City Council, construction could begin later this year; developers hope to complete it by fall 2009.

Area residents were divided on the project, with some fearing additional traffic congestion and others welcoming the prospect of new development -- and nearly 700 more permanent jobs -- in an economically distressed neighborhood.

Among the opponents were representatives of another development company, Conquest Student Housing, a minority-owned firm that has constructed 18 small buildings in the area and is developing another project nearby.

"We want to see a project there," said Alan Smolinisky, co-owner of Conquest. "But it has to be the right one. And this is not the right project."

Conquest and other critics contend that the project needs at least 1,000 more parking spaces, all of which should be on-site to keep students safe. USC officials will allow Urban Partners to use 440 existing spaces in a university parking structure two blocks away toward the parking requirement.

Other opponents include the nearby Shrine Auditorium, apartment owners and some residents and students.

Dan Rosenfeld, an Urban Partners representative, said the project includes 10% more parking than is required and would reduce traffic in the area.

Project supporters include USC and some city officials, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Councilman Bernard C. Parks, whose district includes the project site.

Fueling controversy over the project was a campaign -- which included a website, e-mails, mailings and a billboard -- that highlighted the project's alleged problems and accused the site's developer and family owners of deceitful practices.

At a public meeting last fall, many community members expressed fear that their homes would be taken to accommodate the project, which they thought was too large.

Conquest officials denied starting the campaign but admitted contributing to the website, www.stopuniversitygateway.com, which cites "concerned parties" as its sponsor.

Urban Partners' Rosenfeld said he met with community members numerous times to address their concerns and made adjustments, including lowering the proposed building height and setting aside more parking spaces for resident use.

At Thursday's Community Redevelopment Agency meeting, where nearly 300 people packed the community hall at Exposition Park Intergenerational Community Center, many speakers expressed support for the project.

"The moral of the lesson is you've got to keep talking," Rosenfeld said after the agency board voted unanimously to approve his project.

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