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WARNER CENTER—Group Calls For Updating Warner Plan

A business group has charged that the restrictions on development at the Warner Center are outdated and threaten to turn the premier business community into an abandoned graveyard of offices and stores. The Warner Center Association, a group of commercial tenants and real estate developers, will meet with the Los Angeles Department of Planning later this month to argue that the 8-year-old Warner Center specific plan has boosted the cost of development to levels that will deter growth and send businesses fleeing. The group hopes its concerns will lead to a change in the ordinance that governs development in Warner Center. The tenants and developers want to loosen parking restrictions and eliminate a number of provisions for roadway enhancements and other improvements that have made it far more costly to develop real estate projects in Warner Center than in many other parts of Los Angeles or in neighboring cities. “Our concern is that the city puts so many constraints on, it’s not allowing development to progress and (the area) will become stagnant,” said Brad Rosenheim, a lobbyist and executive director of the Warner Center Association. “And when it becomes stagnant, it becomes like North Hollywood, and the city has to come in to reinvigorate it. Our goal is to keep that from happening.” “There’s no question that the (Warner Center) fees are among the highest in the city,” said Bob Sutton, deputy director of the city planning department, “and we’re trying to bring more parity to it.” At the same time, agency officials said, the specific plan has so far accomplished what it intended, which is to balance the needs of the business community with the needs of the residents, and there is no evidence that it has curtailed growth in the area. “I recognize they have some problems,” said Sutton, “but I think they’re overstated. I’m going to try solving some of those problems. They may not think we’ve gone far enough.” Warner Center an area of about 1,000 acres bounded by the Ventura (101) Freeway, Vanowen Street, DeSoto Avenue and Topanga Canyon Boulevard was designed as a regional business hub for the West San Fernando Valley in the 1980s. By concentrating commerce and offices within a specific area, public policy makers believed they could more easily and cost-effectively build an infrastructure to support the business community. But the Warner Center specific plan includes so many infrastructure improvement requirements and restrictions on growth and development that some now say it is at odds with what it was originally intended to do. Councilwoman’s stance “You can go to a building in almost every other commercially zoned area and not have the same parking ratios and trip fees,” said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick. (Trip fees are charged to developers based on the number of vehicle trips the project is expected to generate.) “We ought to make specific plans to promote those commercial centers, not denigrate them,” added Chick, who is also working to get the specific plan changed. The total dollar amount of improvements and services called for in the specific plan for Warner Center is $660 million, according to Rosenheim. By comparison, he says, Ahmanson Ranch, a 2,800-acre development planned in the Conejo Valley requires mitigations to the surrounding area totaling only $17 million. “I like the Ahmanson deal better,” Rosenheim deadpanned. When the Warner Center specific plan was drawn up in 1993, it was intended to keep the area from bogging down in traffic gridlock and to foster peaceful co-existence with the neighboring residential community. To control traffic into and out of the area, the plan restricted the parking available in Warner Center and called for remote parking locations from which commuters would board shuttle buses to their offices. In addition, a number of infrastructure requirements, such as widening roadways, were included to ease the flow of traffic. Developers are assessed fees to pay for the infrastructure improvements, and they pass those costs along in the form of higher rents. In Warner Center, for example, a new, 100,000-square-foot office building would be assessed nearly $1 million in trip fees and other charges imposed by the city. So far, developers have taken the risk that the market will bear the higher freight. “Clearly, the trip fees are large fees,” said Cliff Goldstein, a partner with J.H. Snyder Co., which built Warner Center Marketplace. “There’s no question that it was a higher risk because you’re building to a larger rent (requirement), but we were eventually won over by the area.” Concerns about exodus The Warner Center group, however, believes that, if the specific plan is not revised, developers and tenants will begin to abandon the area for less restrictive and less expensive communities to the West, leaving vacant offices and undeveloped land that will transform the community from a thriving business center into a ghost town. “The bottom line is these fees add substantially to the cost of building and that’s been reflected on rents and purchase prices,” said Rosenheim. “We’re really trying to bring development costs to closer parity (because) we’re obviously having to compete with other cities that are just a few miles away.” Costs can be reduced, the group says, because a number of the provisions built into the plan are either not necessary or no longer feasible. The subway system, for instance, has been scrapped altogether, and a requirement to provide offsite parking, called intercept parking, from which commuters would board shuttle buses, is not likely to be used in an area like Warner Center. “The problem with that is it’s very high cost and its effectiveness has never been demonstrated in an area like Warner Center, which is suburban,” Rosenheim added. The original specific plan also established maximum limits on parking within Warner Center, a restriction that gives tenants only 2.7 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of office space. That compares with an average of about four parking spaces provided per 1,000 square feet of offices in places like Calabasas and Agoura Hills. When the plan was established, workspaces were designed with offices for each worker or several workers. But now many companies have gone to open-space designs and the result is that more workers are housed in a given amount of square footage. As a result, employers are more likely to move to sites that allow more parking for their workers. “Plus, most cities have minimums (for number of parking spaces), not maximums,” Rosenheim said. Officials with the L.A. city planning department agree that development costs in Warner Center are too high and have launched a study to consider the fee schedules, parking restrictions and off-site requirements. An open meeting scheduled for Oct. 25 will be the first step in considering the different proposals and taking comments from the residential community. “It’s a careful balancing act that we’re working with, and we’ll do the best that we can do,” Sutton said.

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