Agrees to Swap Larchmont Parking for Economic Edge : Developer to Build Garage to Gain City Backing
Los Angeles city planners, in devising a plan to dramatically solve parking problems in Larchmont Village, may have found a way to help other popular business districts with their parking woes.
In a program described as unprecedented, the city has reached agreement with a developer who will build a 145-space public parking structure on private property at 226 N. Larchmont Blvd. The city will lease the garage for 24 years, with the option to buy it outright after that for $1.
The underground garage, when completed sometime next year, will increase public parking spaces in the area by more than 50%. There are now 256 public spaces available in the village, a one-block shopping area serving the upscale communities of Hancock Park, Windsor Square and Fremont Place.
The Larchmont Village parking structure represents a union of the interests of the city, the shopping area and the developer, Ron Simms, who heads Simms Development Co.
Simms will build the three-level subterranean parking garage on his property as part of a project to construct 6,000 square feet of new retail shops and remodel a 10,000-square-foot building that formerly housed a Safeway market.
The city will pay for building the structure, not to exceed $2,750,000, over the 24 years. It will operate the garage at about $36,000 a month, $24,000 of which will be paid from Larchmont Village parking revenues. The $12,000 “shortfall” will be borrowed from citywide parking district funds.
The city, in return, is backing Simms’ application for state bond financing of his construction project. Tom K. Conner, engineer in the city Transportation Department’s Bureau of Parking Management and Regulation, said that state bond financing has a much lower interest rate than typical financing.
“That is the key incentive for the developer,” Conner said. “We get the parking, which is good for the city, the general public and the local business community. Simms gets a lower rate of interest to build his project.”
Located between Beverly Boulevard and 1st Street, the district has had severe parking problems for at least 20 years, according to longtime Larchmont real estate broker Cutler Dippell.
“We have had the usual problems of shoppers spilling over into residential streets and employees parking in the on-street metered parking spaces,” said Dippell, owner of Dippell Realty Co., which was founded in 1923. “We have never been able to come up with a viable plan to add new parking until now. The new, additional parking spaces should solve our parking difficulties for quite some time.”
Because of the apparent success of the plan in Larchmont Village, the city Transportation Department is seeking developers in the Westside, particularly in Westwood Village, to participate in a similar program there, Conner said.
“I don’t know if the program is possible in the Westside because of the high price of property in the area,” Conner said. “But the city is in a position to offer developers economic incentives to form a joint venture with us in meeting the dire public need for more parking. We are talking with developers who have expressed an interest in the program--and we are interested in talking to more of them.”
Conner said the last study of parking in Westwood Village, completed in 1976, showed a need for at least 1,000 more public parking. Certainly, he added, that figure would have to be revised upward to meet business growth since then.
In Larchmont Village, Simms also obtained from the city the first right of refusal to develop a small, 36-space city-owned parking lot across the street from his project if the city decides to redevelop the property. “It is unlikely that the property will be used for anything other than a city parking lot,” Conner said. “But we were willing to add that incentive to obtain the additional parking.”
Simms gave the credit for the agreement to Councilman John Ferraro, who represents the area. “His staff provided the leadership to develop an innovative approach,” Simms said. “Our property was the only one in the district large enough (150 feet of frontage) to do it.”
‘Tried Everything Else’
Tom LaBonge, an aide to Ferraro, said that the councilman, at the urging of Larchmont business people, asked him to explore a new approach tok providing added parking spaces.
“We had tried everything else,” LaBonge said. “We have allowed diagonal parking on the streets, even though traffic planners oppose diagonal parking, to increase the number of spaces. We have thought about subterranean parking on the lot we own--and rejected that because it is too small.
“We could not buy property behind the stores to build a parking facility because it would be incompatible with the homes that surround the business district. The property being developed by Simms was the best and probably last chance to do anything positive to solve a persistent parking shortage.”
Larchmont business people are enthusiastic about the project. Their only complaint was that they feared the loss of Safeway--the street’s only major grocery store, which closed last summer--will reduce the number of shoppers in the area.
“We need a major grocery store to round out the street,” said Val West, owner of Wanderlust Travel.
Rima Vosghanian, who works at Mahogany, a hair and fashion boutique, said that foot traffic has been down since the market closed.
“Our customers all complain about the loss of the Safeway,” she said.
Safeway officials said that escalating rents in the area forced them to leave after their lease expired last summer. Simms said that he is negotiating with a smaller market to occupy the building.
He hopes that the market will open in February or March and the garage and development of new stores will be completed sometime late next year.
Meanwhile, Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky’s office is trying to find developers for the Westside, where the lack of parking spaces is a growing problem, to participate in a similar program.
“Let’s face it,” said Maria Chong, a Yaroslavsky aide, “parking is the No. 1 problem with our Westside constituents. We have to deal with it. We cannot ignore it.”