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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

Plans Ignore Possible Development Ban

Even as city officials prepare an interim control ordinance that could halt development in Warner Center for up to two years, developers are continuing to propose new construction in the area. The latest application comes from the owner of a 330,000-square-foot parcel of land that is currently home to the Canoga Park Swap Meet. Montel Associates, a unit of Simms Commercial Development, which owns the property, is proposing a mixed use residential project on the property, at Vanowen and Variel streets. “It’s self-evident why these kinds of applications are coming in,” said Benjamin M. Reznik, chair of the land use practice at Jeffer Mangels Butler & Marmaro LLP who represents the developer on the project. “In general the highest and best use in a lot of these commercially zoned and, in some cases, industrially zoned (properties) is multifamily.” The business opportunity that multifamily housing development poses has accelerated building so much that the Warner Center area is on target to reach the number of housing units first planned when the Warner Center Specific Plan was adopted in 1993 about five years early. Worried about the traffic and congestion additional building might create, residents asked Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine, whose district includes the Warner Center area, to introduce a motion that would put a temporary stay on new residential building. The so-called interim control ordinance motion is now in the hands of the city’s planning department. “It’s being written as we speak,” said Tom Henry, planning deputy to Zine. While the specific plan anticipated that about 3,000 new housing units would be built in the Warner Center area by 2010, virtually all of the development activity for the first 10 years occurred in the commercial sector. “So no cap was put on the housing,” said Henry. “(Now) the amount of commercial growth has been stable, but the amount of housing proposals has just spiked to where we are very close to actual project approvals for 3,000 more dwelling units,” Henry added. Henry said the increase in traffic in the area came to light in studies conducted during the investigation of the Ahmanson Ranch development proposal (which has since been defeated) to the West. “Traffic has increased by 15 percent over what was projected,” Henry said. “So the councilman said, we stopped Ahmanson, but now we’re going to have the same growth take place in Warner Center, and we don’t have the traffic mitigation in place.'” If instituted, the interim control ordinance would be issued for one year with an option to renew it twice, each time for six additional months, Henry said. The idea behind it is to provide time to review and amend the specific plan. While in effect, building permits would be accepted and considered until the maximum of 3,000 housing units was reached in the Warner Center Specific Plan area which stretches from Vanowen Street to the North, the Ventura Freeway to the South, De Soto Avenue on the East, and Topanga Canyon Boulevard on the West. “The interim control ordinance is based on building permits,” said Henry. “So you could have 5,000 project approvals, but the first 3,000 that come in for building permits win.” Projects being proposed first go through a specific plan compliance review, and if approved, begin the permit process. Henry anticipates that project compliance reviews take about four or five months, so a project that is going through the review now, will probably come under the interim control ordinance by the time the review is completed. Developers, however, are optimistic that the need for housing will outweigh the concerns about additional housing, and the ability of developers like Montel seeking to build housing on property zoned for commercial use are not likely to be adversely affected. “The swap meet is commercially zoned,” Reznik said. “When you think about the traffic impacts or other impacts from several hundred square feet of retail versus four hundred apartment units, the residential is a lesser impact.”

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