L.A. Urged to Change Its Ways for Building More Homes Downtown

Times Staff Writer

A panel of land-use experts Friday urged the city to continue its efforts to promote downtown living, despite the public’s lukewarm reaction so far, but the panel said the city should make major changes in the way the new homes are built and marketed.

Panel members, from the Urban Land Institute in Washington, focused their attention on South Park, an 80-block area east of the Convention Center that has been a cornerstone of downtown revitalization plans for more than a decade. Although the city, through its Community Redevelopment Agency, has spent $50 million to promote residential development in South Park, only 200 condominium units have been built, and, after two years, 35% of them remain unsold.

To make South Park a successful residential neighborhood, the panel said the city would have to make several changes in its redevelopment strategy. These include adopting zoning prohibitions against office building construction, scaling down buildings from 14 stories to two and three stories, concentrating initially on building apartments as opposed to condominiums, and establishing a neighborhood with shops and parks.

The panel maintained that by restricting zoning, the city would be able to deflate land prices and ultimately make housing in the area more affordable. The high cost of land, driven up by commercial speculation, has been a major factor inhibiting residential development in the area, according to the panel.

The panel recommended that 6,000 apartments and condominiums ultimately be built in South Park. Panel members estimated that at least 800 would have to be constructed before the neighborhood would be sufficiently developed to catch on with the buying public.


First Sales Lagged

The original city plans for the area called for building 7,000 housing units, but after sales of the first 200 lagged, officials began to debate whether it would be better to scale down its plans for residential development and open up the area to extensive commercial construction.

The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency, which is in charge of the South Park project, retained the Urban Land Institute last April to critique the agency’s strategy for South Park.

Panel member Albert Walsh, a former chairman of the New York City Housing Authority, said the redevelopment agency should be prepared to spend $60 million over the next few years to stimulate new housing, but after that, Walsh said, the project should become self-sustaining.

$50 Million Already Spent

According to Jim Wood, the agency chairman, it has already spent $50 million in preparing South Park for development. The idea of spending an additional $60 million of public money is a “sobering” proposition, Wood said, but he said it could be done.

Wood said he thought the panel recommendations would be well-received by the agency staff, which has been strongly in favor of taking more aggressive steps to promote new housing in South Park. But Wood said he did not know how the agency board would react to the recommendations.

He did say, however, that the panel recommendations on zoning would be controversial.

“That will create a tremendous discussion,” he said. “We are talking about reducing the value of a piece of land. We clearly have the right to do it, the question is: should we do it?”