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Casden agrees to downsize West L.A. development

Developer Casden West L.A. drops plans for a grocery store and Target and reduces number of homes after critics complain about expected new traffic.

June 26, 2013|By David Zahniser, Los Angeles Times
  • A rendering of the hotly contested commercial and residential project Casden West.
A rendering of the hotly contested commercial and residential project… (Casden West LA LLC )

Real estate developer Casden West L.A. has agreed to chop down the size of its hotly contested commercial and residential project on the Westside, following two weeks of negotiations with neighborhood groups, a company official said Tuesday.

With a City Council vote on the project set for Friday, Casden abandoned plans for both a supermarket and a Target, moves that are expected to dramatically decrease the amount of automobile traffic that the project generates.

The reworked project, planned next to an Expo Line light rail station, will have just 15,000 square feet of commercial space, instead of the previously proposed 160,000, said company spokesman Brian Lewis.

Casden also is reducing the number of homes planned within the project near the congested corner of Pico and Sepulveda boulevards, from 638 homes to 595.

The Casden development had major support from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had portrayed it as "quintessential smart growth" — the concept of clustering homes, shops and restaurants around transit stops. But an array of neighborhood groups had threatened legal action, saying that Casden illegally used property owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to calculate the development's size.

Lewis said his company responded to neighborhood concerns about traffic and would no longer rely on the MTA land to make its calculation.

"While we continue to believe that a transit-oriented development is the type of smart growth that the Westside needs, it is infeasible to build such a project with extensive transit amenities on just four acres of land," he said.

Jay Handal, chairman of the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, said the changes represented "a serious, serious victory for the community." By downsizing the project, Casden significantly cut the projected number of new car trips from the development to no more than 3,000 per day, Handal said.

"This agreement will eliminate lawsuits and stalling and actually bring the project to fruition in the very near future," said Handal, one of several neighborhood leaders who took part in the talks with Casden.

Casden West L.A. has been looking to strike a deal before the 15-member City Council undergoes a dramatic changeover. Next week, six new council members will take office.

Still, one neighborhood leader said she was worried that community groups would not have enough time to understand all of the project's changes.

Hilary Norton, executive director of the group Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic, said she was happy the scaled-back project would produce less traffic but disappointed that fewer amenities would be near the rail station. "It's a shame to lose the opportunity for people to walk and bike and [take a] bus and train to a grocery store and a Target," she said.

Tuesday's announcement comes one week after another developer offered its own concessions in response to heated neighborhood opposition. Millennium Partners agreed to reduce the height of two skyscraper towers planned in Hollywood, taking one from 55 stories to 39 and the second from 45 stories to 35.

Casden's tallest building will be 10 stories, not the previously proposed 17, Lewis said. Other buildings will not exceed six stories, he said.

Casden West L.A. and its principal, Alan Casden, are well known at City Hall. The company contributed $100,000 last year to Villaraigosa's failed campaign to extend a half-cent countywide sales tax by 30 years, and $100,000 in March to the council's unsuccessful bid to hike the city sales tax.

The company also retained former Gov. Gray Davis, now a private lawyer, to represent it in talks with city officials.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

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