It took a few hours, but the City Planning Commission, whose members are appointed by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, once again approved the ongoing Manhattanization of L.A.
"It makes people want to move out of town," said Hollywood community activist Doug Haines after yesterday's unanimous vote at City Hall.
The mega-redevelopment project at the historic CBS radio and TV studios on Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street -- also known as Columbia Square -- includes a 28-story residential building and a 17-story office tower.
The Planning Commission's support for the high-density project, which now heads to the L.A. City Council for final approval, allows for a controversial height district change.
The zoning code for buildings on the Columbia Square site had been set at 45 feet in height. But with the Planning Commission's blessing, and with the approval of Villaraigosa and City Council President Eric Garcetti, who represents that part of Hollywood, AREA Property Partners, the (interestingly enough) New York-based developer of the old CBS studios, may now construct buildings over 300 and 200 feet tall.
Asked why the developer needed to build such towering structures next to an old-style Hollywood neighborhood with two- and three-story bungalows, AREA partner Brian Earle said it was just a matter of fulfilling "the city's desire to have more density."
"It's the new versus the old," Earle added. "Instead of going out and having more sprawl, we're going up."
Land-use lawyer Robert Silverstein, who has worked on many preservation projects in L.A., noted after the meeting, "We're seeing the
city willingly permit the destruction of its own past."
Yet one homeowner, who lives near Columbia Square, told the Planning Commission he was more concerned about the developer cutting down ficus trees on Selma Avenue than the looming buildings and the alteration of Hollywood's historic past. That person, perhaps not seeing the forest for the trees, supported the project.
Dick Platkin, a planning consultant who spoke at the commission meeting, told L.A. Weekly that height districts were set to "enhance the appearance of Los Angeles." He should know -- Platkin worked as a city planner at L.A.'s Planning Department for 20 years.
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But those zoning regulations have been changed time and again with the full approval of Villaraigosa, who had a staffer appear before the commission to support AREA's mega-project, and the City Council to make way for high-density projects. A Garcetti staffer also made an appearance to give the councilman's okay.
Platkin added, "By busting the height limit throughout the city, it makes projects profitable. But it goes against the appearance of the city and its livability."
In the end, Platkin said, the city ends up with a "hodgepodge" of development projects that are unsightly, unwieldy, and can cause property values to take a nose dive.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.