A long-debated, $250-million apartment and retail complex in South Los Angeles won the consent of city planners Thursday after the developer agreed to fund a medical clinic there, hire local residents and accede to other demands from community representatives who had bashed the idea as elitist.
The deal came after prolonged negotiations between activists and lawyers for the deep-pockets developer, Geoffrey H. Palmer, whose Italian-named apartment complexes downtown have drawn both praise and condemnation.
After the accord was unveiled, the Los Angeles Planning Commission unanimously approved Palmer's Lorenzo development, one of the largest projects proposed in recent years for economically battered South L.A.
Planning Commission approval was vital because the 9-acre site — on land previously owned by the Los Angeles Orthopaedic Hospital — was restricted largely to medical or educational uses.
The Lorenzo will include more than 900 apartments in a six-story building and 34,000 square feet of retail space at the corner of Flower and 23rd streets. The project is to go up next to a planned Expo Line light rail station — one stop from USC and the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The developer hopes to break ground later this year on the project that is expected to take 20 months to complete, said George Mihlsten, an attorney for G.H. Palmer Associates.
Activists labeled the accord — known as a community benefits agreement — a potentially precedent-setting deal that could lead the way to more neighborhood input as the stadium, expanded mass transit and other projects approach reality.
"It is critical that community residents have a real seat at the decision-making table," said Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, a nonprofit group.
Urban redevelopment, activists argued, has too often proceeded without sufficient attention to low-income people and other residents.
"This time, the people of South L.A. were heard loud and clear," said Serena Lin, an attorney with Public Counsel, a legal aid group that worked on the issue.
Representatives of Palmer — whose other apartment complexes bear names such as Medici, Visconti and Orsini — called the agreement a much-needed generator of jobs, taxes and economic activity, all built without public subsidy.
"The cooperation agreement entered into with the community presents a historic opportunity to work together to better the South-Central community," Mihlsten said.
Among about $9.5 million in concessions, Palmer agreed to provide 7,500 square feet in the Lorenzo for a medical clinic that will operate rent free for 20 years. The developer will also support health programs, job training and area small businesses, and vowed to set aside almost one-third of jobs during construction for local residents — and another 10% for "at risk" residents. The developer agreed to provide "living wage jobs," which exceed minimum wage positions.
Palmer, who has previously balked at affordable housing mandates, had already agreed to set aside 5% of Lorenzo's units for low-income tenants. Critics said that set-aside was too low and that few current area residents could afford the rents.
The project now goes before the City Council and city redevelopment officials.