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Tensions rising on Ventura Blvd.

Residents fear that dense, high-rise housing projects will worsen traffic along the busy corridor.

March 30, 2008|Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writer

Mixed-use developments -- a combination of housing and commercial-retail space within one project -- are in the works in several communities along the boulevard, including Tarzana and Sherman Oaks. But no neighborhood is more affected than Encino, where three such developments are under construction within a half-mile of Ventura Boulevard and Hayvenhurst Avenue.

They include the four-story, 137-unit Avalon Bay apartment complex, the 125-unit Gold Mountain project and the 51-unit Woodrise. The intersection is about a mile from the often gridlocked interchange of the 101 and 405 freeways.

The 2004 planning report for Avalon Bay shows that the city granted a higher density on one portion of the project than otherwise allowed in exchange for creating a buffer zone between it and nearby homes. The report also stated that the project would reduce congestion by encouraging pedestrian activity.

Bryan Gordon, chief operating officer of Pacific Equity Properties, a Santa Monica firm building a mixed-use project on the boulevard in Tarzana, said his company sought entitlements for Village Walk -- which includes town houses, condominiums and a Whole Foods store -- not to add density but to increase ceiling height in the town houses and to make boulevard-facing buildings more visually pleasing.

"We try to serve the community by building good projects and by not cramming as much as we can into a buildable area," Gordon said.

City Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents Encino, Sherman Oaks and parts of the Westside, supports mixed-use projects "that will encourage pedestrian and transit-friendly neighborhoods where people can rely less on cars," said Lisa Hansen, his chief of staff.

"To preserve the character of single-family neighborhoods, mixed-use projects should be considered for major boulevards and transit corridors," Hansen said.

"For example, Councilmember Weiss' vision for Century City adds residential projects and transit improvements, and Ventura Boulevard also can incorporate residential and mixed-use projects in a thoughtful way."

Weiss' support for mixed-use projects in Century City helped spark an unsuccessful recall attempt last year by a small group of Westside homeowners.

But "thoughtful" is not the description Encino residents would apply to the way development is unfolding in their community, and even mixed-use supporters are having a hard time accepting what's going on.

"I am a fan of mixed use because of what I've seen in other cities around the world," said Leonard Shaffer, president of the Tarzana Neighborhood Council.

"Whether it will work in Los Angeles is another question, because of our car culture. But when I look at some of the things going on in Encino, I cringe."

Gerald A. Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino, echoes Shaffer's concerns:

"There's no proof that smart growth works," Silver said. "People are going to get in their cars and drive."

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amanda.covarrubias@ latimes.com

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