94 F
San Fernando
Sunday, May 28, 2023

Groups Putting Heat on Developers of Projects

When Cascades Park Properties first made its multifamily development proposal about a year ago, the company found itself working not just with community groups in Sylmar, where the project is located, but with several neighboring communities as well. It is a scenario that just may become standard operating procedure in coming months and years, and as it does, developers can expect to assume greater and greater costs in order to satisfy the many and varied interests of the groups involved. With a virtual flood of development now in full swing, these community groups say that they can no longer look at each individual project in isolation. The sum of these developments, they claim, is greater than each part, affecting not just one intersection, but whole corridors and the communities they connect. “We’re dealing with traffic studies being possibly approved for each one of these projects as either being mitigated or having no significant impact,” said Ellen Vukovich, who coordinates the development-related efforts of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. “So if each one of these projects receives approval without being required to fully address the regional concerns as well as the cumulative impact and the existing problems, gridlock will be 24/7.” The Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association is teaming with the Homeowners of Encino on several current development proposals. And Gerald A. Silver, president of the Homeowners of Encino said his group also plans to mobilize more communities along Ventura Boulevard to call for a moratorium on mixed use development with residential and retail components along Ventura Boulevard. The alliances are not entirely new. Many Valley communities united to have a voice in the Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan when it was developed in the 1980s. “It’s not unusual for other communities to get involved with projects because the plan runs 21 miles long, and people on one end or another may feel something impacts their neighborhood,” said Benjamin Reznik, an attorney who heads up the land use practice at law firm Jeffer Mangels Butler Marmaro LLP and served on the committee that developed the specific plan. But what’s different now is that many communities have grown far more sophisticated at working with business and the city. Case in point: The Neighborhood Council in Woodland Hills was instrumental in persuading Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine to introduce an ordinance restricting further residential development until planners and others can adequately access the potential impact of the projects already approved. Although the traffic generated by new development has always been a bone of contention between developers, community groups and the city, the latest development trends are ratcheting up the discussion. Many projects planned Currently more than 3,700 units of rental apartments and more than 3,100 condominium projects, new developments or conversions, are in the pipeline throughout the Valley. More still are in the very early stages of planning. Many are situated along Ventura Boulevard and most of them include a retail component. Much of that development seeks to place a greater number of housing units in smaller, infill locations, close to existing businesses, services and public transportation. These sites tend to be already heavily-trafficked and residents as far away as one or two towns over worry that the congestion will back up over a wider radius. “There was a day in the past where if you satisfied the concerns of the immediate neighbors that was the biggest hurdle,” said Mark Armbruster, a partner at Cascades Park Properties and a land use attorney. “That’s no longer the case, especially for bigger projects. Neighboring communities, cities and neighborhood councils are all concerned.” When Armbruster began the entitlement process to develop Legends at Cascades, a community of about 550 condominium units and 230 rental apartments about to break ground in Sylmar, his company held extensive meetings with not just organizations in Sylmar, but also with the North Valley Coalition and the Granada Hills Neighborhood Council . The meetings resulted in significant changes to the company’s initial plan, among them, the ratio of apartments to condominiums was reversed, traffic mitigation measures that meet standards for industrial development were adopted, even though residential development requires less mitigation and the company agreed to build a new fire house for the community. “If you have a group on the north that wants one thing and a group on the south may be concerned about something different, that adds to the mitigation you need to deal with,” Armbruster said, but he nonetheless believes the discussions were worthwhile. “When we got to the council meeting, there was not one single opposition,” Armbruster said. Developers cooperative Developers by and large say they are willing to address these types of community concerns, however costly and time consuming because it helps them to plan a more successful project. Many of the current projects on the drawing board, after all, will command very high rents or sale prices that won’t be very attractive to potential tenants or owners if the neighborhood is inconvenient or unpleasant. “I think it depends on how the developer goes about handling (these groups) from the very beginning,” said Lawrence Scott, senior vice president at AvalonBay Communities Inc., which is building a luxury rental project in Encino. “If the developer is conscious of doing an appropriate amount of community outreach, there shouldn’t be any risk. It’s when you get groups that feel they’re being ignored that they tend to band together.” Mixed-use development that combines housing with retail stores has been successfully used in other cities, developers and others say, to accommodate growth. Indeed, the strategy is often referred to by urban planners as “smart growth,” because it promotes the use of public transportation and reduces the need for car trips to handle daily errands. Placed along Ventura Boulevard, many say, these developments will lessen the traffic because residents can walk to services such as dry cleaners, grocery stores and restaurants. “If you look at what they did to the Sherman Oaks Galleria, and you see all the offices and everyone eats right downstairs, how much traffic does that alleviate during the day? An amazing amount of traffic,” said Scott Dinovitz, president of D2 Development Inc., which has plans to develop a condominium project along Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills. “The denser the project and the more services, the less people will have to drive.” Ventura Boulevard woes But, because it traverses the Valley, development along the Ventura Boulevard corridor can have an even wider impact, community groups say. They contend that the boulevard is barely sufficient to handle the current traffic patterns and the added residents will only make matters worse. “What are those guys smoking?” said Gerald A. Silver, president of the Homeowners of Encino of the argument that mixed use projects will alleviate traffic. “Common sense says when you’ve got a gridlocked Ventura Boulevard and you’re going to add thousands of residents on the same street with the same Gelson’s, it’s irresponsible for people to advocate that scenario.” With staunch opposition on one side, and a dire need for more housing on the other, some of these battles will ultimately fall in the lap of city planners and officials, and even calmer heads worry that political solutions and piecemeal efforts will fall short of what’s really needed. “We don’t have comprehensive planning because we haven’t had the kind of leadership that takes the broad view,” said Brad Rosenheim, whose Warner Center company, Rosenheim & Associates, consults on land use and community relations issues. “We haven’t had the kind of leadership that takes the broad view and will take the first step in acknowledging that we have to accommodate growth.”

Featured Articles

Related Articles