Western at Franklin Project Moves Forward, Community Split
LOS FELIZ—A mixed-use apartment complex planned for the corner of Franklin and Western avenues has proved controversial among its neighbors, with locals split down the middle in their support, or lack thereof, for the project.
The development, which will replace a Valero gas station, a single family home and a duplex, will add 96 units of housing to the area—16 of them affordable for those with “very low income,” per city standards—along with approximately 5,500 square feet of retail space and 123 parking spaces.
Detractors say the project, which will stand at 60 feet, is out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood and its already taxed infrastructure, while supporters applauded the proposed addition of much-needed housing to the area and its proximity to the Metro Red Line.
“I think given the drastic shortage of housing, it’s important to build densely, especially near transit,” said area resident Anthony Weiss at a March 21st Los Feliz Neighborhood Council (LFNC) meeting.
Additionally Weiss, an American Film Institute alumnus, said he supported the developer’s plan to set aside a block of units for students of the film school, which is located a short distance away from the proposed development. However, those units would be market-rate, separate from the 16 affordable units previously mentioned.
Meanwhile, Gary Khanjian, a member of the LFNC’s Planning, Zoning and Historic Preservation Committee, argued the development was larger than the neighborhood could sustain and higher than what current zoning laws allow.
“If this were on Hollywood Boulevard, it would have been the perfect location,” he said.
Opponents also took issue with the multiple zone variances requested by the developer, a hot issue after the Los Angeles Times recently revealed substantial donations from developers to city officials, in what appears to be, in exchange for city approvals.
Two sources, close to the issue, have cited a possible friendly relationship between the project’s developers and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the area in question.
The sources point to photographs online of both Garcetti and O’Farrell taken with a member of the project’s development team taken after the city’s recent election.
Meanwhile supporters argued the clobbering of ballot Measure S on March 7th was a “mandate” to build more densely regardless of city code.
Aaron Green, a consultant working with the project’s developers, acknowledged the list of requested zoning changes seemed daunting, likening it to a “Chinese food menu,” but said it was because the project would sit on multiple lots, each zoned differently.
If the project were located just half a block down on Western Avenue, he said, it wouldn’t require any zoning changes.
Others were concerned the development would exacerbate parking and traffic issues on Franklin Avenue, which has recently become a major artery as the only local corridor between the 5 and 101 freeways, with some saying they sometimes couldn’t even pull out of their own driveways.
But Green claimed the project would actually reduce traffic in the area, through a combination of transit incentives, walkability and the lack of motorists going in and out of the gas station.
For its part, the LFNC, which serves as an advisory body to City Hall, was unable to reach a majority consensus—on two motions— either for the project as is, or with conditions.
Two times, the 19-member board split 6 to 7, with three boardmembers abstaining each time. Another three boardmembers were absent.
The board, therefore, can offer no official position when the city’s Planning Commission votes on the project in late April.
Some close to the issue have said the board could not have voted on such a complex issue with such shortened-time.
A LFNC committee heard plans for the project in a meeting last August, at which time, it asked for changes and for the developers to re-present those revisions so the committee, as is protocol, could make its own recommendation for or against the project in advance of a full vote by the LFNC board.
But the developers never did return to the committee and the LFNC was forced to put the issue on its agenda quickly in March to keep to the timeline with hearings on the project at the city level.
LFNC boardmembers Linda Demmers and Mark F. Mauceri, LFNC’s former president and vice president, respectively, put forward one of the motions heard in the LFNC’s March meeting, advising the project should adhere to the building code.
“The code is the law and asking builders to obey the law isn’t unreasonable,” Mauceri said in an interview. “LFNC going on record with ‘no opinion’ essentially says we have ‘no objections’ and that wasn’t what I heard our community saying, far from it. Those stakeholders,” Mauceri said, “saw boardmembers promoting their own ideologies instead of supporting the people who elected them.”
According to Mauceri, a pro-development faction has developed on the LFNC board, led by the LFNC’s current president, Luke Klipp.
“When approved, this project becomes a blueprint for skirting the building codes on hundreds of lots encircling Los Feliz,” Mauceri said. “It’s a much bigger deal than people realize.”
But according to Klipp, no such faction exists and he said he finds his fellow boardmember’s assertion “unfortunate.”
“I take no ownership of the position of anyone on the board,” Klipp said. “[Boardmembers] are elected officials in their own right. I don’t tell anyone how to vote.”
According to Klipp—who did vote affirmatively without conditions on the project—his vote did not represent pro-development, but was instead pro-affordable housing.
“We have zero affordable housing in this neighborhood,” he said, “and [the development] would create 16 units,” of such. “This is not about pro development. It’s pro-people.”
Still, he said, he understands the community, as well as the board, was divided.
According to Klipp, there were 15 public speakers at their recent meeting for the project and 20 opposed.
The LFNC board, he said, also received petitions of 200 signatures against and another 300 for the project as well as a smattering of emails, mostly supported the development.
“It was a very split board and a very split community,” said Klipp, “The votes reflected that.”
An editorial on this issue titled “Amateur Hour During a Pro Game” by former LFNC President Ron Ostrow can be read here.
UPDATE: This article was updated at noon on March 3oth to clarify that planned American Film Institute student housing would not include any of the 16 affordable units.