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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

Neighbors Seek Slowdown of Growth in Warner Center

Neighbors Seek Slowdown of Growth in Warner Center By SHELLY GARCIA Senior Reporter The Woodland Hills-Warner Center Neighborhood Council is asking the city to place a cap on residential building in the area, fearful that the balance of homes to working spaces could be tipped beyond what the area’s infrastructure can bear. The neighborhood council’s motion, which also includes demands for a new traffic study and provisions for additional parkland, comes as developers ready plans or begin construction for an additional 2,500 apartment units in the Warner Center area. Those plans will likely be delayed at the least, and could be modified if a new traffic study finds that the development will create additional congestion in the area. “What we have is an infrastructure that is already congested,” said Los Angeles Councilman Dennis Zine, who represents the district. “We’re trying to find new space for schools and the other parts of the infrastructure that haven’t kept pace. What we’re trying to do is make this work for the community and Warner Center.” Zine said he would support a move to update the Warner Center Specific Plan so that additional residential development is curtailed as well as a new traffic study that would consider not just the potential effect of the new projects planned along DeSoto and Canoga avenues, but throughout the Warner Center area. That is not likely to sit well with developers, who have been moving forward based on a Specific Plan that, as it stands, does not require additional entitlements or variances for these projects. It could also mobilize land owners in the area, who have found a welcome market at top dollar for land that is converted to residential use. Indeed, some of the apartment complexes currently planned will be developed on parcels that now house industrial buildings. Back about a decade ago when Warner Center was still a predominantly commercial hub, city officials drew up the Specific Plan with an eye toward creating a full-fledged community with a balance of homes and businesses, schools and roads. The plan was designed to remain in effect until about 20 million square feet of commercial building was completed in the area or the year 2008, whichever came first. More housing units At the same time, an environmental report that accompanied the Specific Plan sought to maintain a balance between commercial and residential building, and it established another criteria for that balance Warner Center could accommodate about 3,000 new housing units to correspond to the targeted 20 million square feet of commercial development. The expectation was that it would take nearly until the end of this decade to reach that balance. It now looks like that day has arrived about four years early. Until recently, all the development activity at Warner Center was focused on commercial properties, and the area now houses about 17 million or 18 million square feet of commercial buildings. But the decline in the commercial real estate market has brought those types of developments to a standstill and moved the pace of residential building up considerably. The area’s neighborhood council and others say residential construction is outpacing the area’s ability to develop an infrastructure to support it. “No matter that the traffic study says it won’t have an impact, we just don’t believe it,” said Joyce Pearson, chair of the Woodland Hills-Warner Center Neighborhood Council. “There’s a certain amount of experience with the city’s traffic studies that lead us to believe maybe they’re not as comprehensive as they should be.” The traffic studies required of the new developments require only that the developers measure the impact of their specific projects without taking into account all the projects under development. Pearson and others point out that the three projects under consideration by the council, at 6301 6331 DeSoto Ave., 6200-6250 DeSoto Ave., and 6200-6250 Canoga Ave. are in addition to a large Warner Ridge project, Bella Vista, which sits just across the street from the two DeSoto projects. “We already know traffic on DeSoto heading to or from the freeway on the afternoon is really bumper to bumper,” Pearson said, “and the concentration of the new projects is all there.” Mall expansion Also at issue is a planned expansion at Westfield Shoppingtown Topanga, which will add hundreds of thousands of square feet to that shopping center and further strain the roads and freeway access. Meanwhile, the development of public transportation is lagging behind, opponents of the new developments say. Construction of the busway has just begun and a planned Dash shuttle service is not yet fully online. But changing the specific plan is easier said than done. “If the council office wants to set new standards, how do they go about doing that?” said Brad Rosenheim, principal of Rosenheim & Associates, which serves as the director of the Warner Center Association. “It is pretty difficult to do that without amending the specific plan. It becomes very complicated.” Amending the specific plan is a time consuming and labor intensive effort, and the plan was just amended several years ago, making the cost of another amendment in so short a period of time hard to justify. Layering additional ordinances onto the plan is like to result in confusion for developers as well as city officials. Meanwhile developers, who have been led to believe that their projects do not require any additional entitlements or variances may find themselves waiting in the wings, unable to proceed with their projects.

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