Silver Lake Groups React : Mini Malls Called Major ‘Contagion’
Homeowner and business groups in Silver Lake are in revolt against what one community activist calls “a contagion” of mini-mall shopping centers and have asked for zoning changes to encourage walking rather than driving in local retail areas.
As a result, Los Angeles City Councilman Michael Woo’s office will push for regulations requiring any new mini-mall shopping centers in Silver Lake to have parking lots behind the stores.
Most now have lots in front, a practice critics say spoils street aesthetics and hinders efforts to turn Hyperion Avenue and Sunset Boulevard into streets where pedestrians feel comfortable strolling and browsing. Builders say, however, that parking lots in front of stores deter crime.
The Silver Lake Residents Assn. and Silver Lake Merchants Assn. have proposed adding pedestrian amenities to existing zoning rules.
“I think it is a really good idea,” Gilda Haas, Woo’s planning deputy, said of the proposal. Haas stressed, however, that the idea is still in the early discussion stages and could take many months to be adopted.
Local activists say they are alarmed by a recent boom in the construction of convenience centers, especially along the two-block upper Hyperion shopping district where one mini mall is about to open, another is under construction and a third is planned. Gas stations once operated at all three sites, so builders did not need zoning variances.
“We’re seeing too many going up that are insensitive to the environment and not oriented to neighborhood services,” said Jim Bonar, program chairman of the Residents Assn. The group’s president, John Sloan calls the developments “a contagion.”
Their comments echo those of other neighborhood groups around Los Angeles whose pressure led to passage last February of new citywide rules requiring more lighting, landscaping and parking in the shopping centers. Parking in front of the malls is still allowed in Los Angeles, although it has been banned in some nearby cities, including West Hollywood.
Builders of the centers say Silver Lake is an increasingly attractive retail market as more affluent households move to the area, drawn by its older, hillside homes and proximity to the new office towers in downtown Los Angeles.
“We were 82% preleased before we broke ground. We would love to have that percentage on any other project,” said David Frank, a partner in Merrill Development Co. of Marina Del Rey, which is building a five-store shopping center on the northeast corner of Hyperion and Griffith Park Boulevard. A Thrifty Drug and Discount Store is expected to be the anchor of that center.
Frank and other developers say they have striven to build attractive mini malls in Silver Lake. They say the centers are more attractive than the gas stations they replaced.
For example, the seven-shop mall nearing completion on the southwest corner of Hyperion and Rowena Avenue has an unusual peaked roof and green trim on exterior walls and railings.
“I agree that some centers are just thrown up, but we try not to put in anything distressful to the neighborhood,” said Lynn Simay, a partner in Key Centers, the Canoga Park-based firm building that mini mall. She said community groups should be “more discerning” in their criticism.
Against Rear Parking Lots
The current projects would not be affected by proposed changes in the zoning. However, builders said requirements to build parking in the rear would kill future projects. Crime-wary customers, they say, are afraid to park in the rear of stores and avoid such lots.
“I think our primary responsibility is to provide security for the customers,” said a representative for Paul Woerz, the Brentwood developer planning to build a convenience center at the southeast corner of Hyperion and Griffith Park.
The representative, who asked not to be named, said, “I would guarantee that muggings and rapes and attacks will increase with parking in the back. And who would be liable? A customer would sue the owner, but maybe he should also sue the city, which required the parking in the back, and maybe the community which pushed for it.”
He did say, however, that requiring community review of architectural designs for such centers would be reasonable. That has been proposed by the Silver Lake neighborhood groups. Other proposals include putting all parking lot entrances and exits on side streets--so there is no disruption of sidewalks on the main shopping street--and requiring extra landscaping and benches.
Appeal to ‘Upwardly Mobile’
“We are not out to make everything look the same, like in Mission Viejo,” said Larry Lloyd, a restaurateur who is president of the Silver Lake Merchants Assn. “But we are trying to attract businesses who care about the area and appeal to the upwardly mobile.”
Lloyd said he hopes that Hyperion Avenue and Sunset Boulevard will develop into shopping and restaurant districts similar to those along Melrose Avenue in the Westside and Larchmont Boulevard in Hancock Park.
Some in the business community privately doubt that such a revitalization is possible in Silver Lake because shopping areas are relatively isolated from each other. And some residents say it will be very difficult to convince people to walk for long stretches.
There also is some debate over the type of stores the new centers appear to be attracting and whether they will kill off existing businesses. For example, the opening of two pizza parlors and two video-rental stores is planned on Hyperion, where there are already two video shops and a pizzeria within the same two blocks.
Many of the new stores are part of retail chains, and some local activists say they would prefer shops with individuality run by neighborhood people. Most Silver Lake stores now are “mom and pop operations,” said Ted Kitos, a neighborhood activist who also is a deputy to the mayor of West Hollywood. “They offer the kind of service you don’t usually get with chain stores,” Kitos said.
However, developers say there is plenty of business potential for everyone. They say their mini-mall shopping centers provide a launching pad for family entrepreneurs who can’t afford rents in larger malls, such as Glendale Galleria.