Arts District activists encouraged by zoning hearing delay

Arts District residents battling a proposal to rewrite downtown Los Angeles zoning laws to permit up to 1,500 new residential units say they are encouraged by two recent developments.

The City Planning Commission postponed a Dec. 18 hearing on the changes after more than 300 residents petitioned for a delay. Opponents say the "live-work" ordinance would flood the 52-block district with multistory apartments that would clash with the artsy neighborhood of converted warehouses and manufacturing plants.


A new hearing date has not yet been scheduled, officials say.

Meanwhile, a developer with plans to erect a six-story apartment house under the proposed guidelines said that he was willing to make the building shorter to stem opposition. Instead of six stories, the building would be five, said developer Peklar Pilavjian.

Pilavjian said he's also willing to sit down with residents of the Beacon Lofts, immediately adjacent to his planned building at 4th and Alameda streets, to discuss alterations to the design and footprint.

"We'll talk to anybody, anywhere,'' Pilavjian said.

Lisa Vacca-Brown, who sits on the Beacon Lofts' homeowners association board, said the group has yet to set up a meeting with the developer. But she and other Beacon residents said they are optimistic.

"It's great news, not just as a property owner living right next door but as a member of the Arts District community,'' Vacca-Brown said. "This project will be a test case for the whole community in terms of the kind of ground-up construction that the city will allow."

The ordinance, drafted by city planners, calls for loft-style residences with adequate work space, high ceilings, large doors, natural light and open floor plans. Buildings could be up to eight stories, or 100 feet tall, roughly double what is currently permitted.

Much of the existing development is low-slung warehouses and industrial spaces that have been converted over the last 25 years into residential and commercial uses.

Pilavjian's Alameda Project is one of at least three on the drawing board as builders anxiously await approval of new zoning rules. City planners say revamped guidelines are necessary to meet demand for new housing while preserving the district's character.

Arts District residents say they aren't opposed to new development but object to a proliferation of six- or seven-story apartment buildings constructed from wood. They want builders to spend more to erect towers built of concrete and steel to preserve the district's distinctive look.

But developers say building with steel is costlier and would push rents much higher. Pilavjian said it costs roughly $3 per square foot to build with wood, compared with at least $4 per square foot with concrete and steel.

In the case of Beacon Lofts, a six-story former storage tower, residents were displeased not just with the look of Pilavjian's building but also its height. At six stories, it would block downtown skyline views that some of Beacon's upper-floor owners enjoy.

Pilavjian, who developed the Beacon loft-style condos before turning to the apartment project, said buyers were informed that the new development might block their views. He is willing to change his plans, he said, because he doesn't want any ill will.

"From our perspective, this is being good neighbors,'' he said. "Contractually, we are not obligated to do this."


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