Brentwood Site : Getty Art Museum Gets Planners' OK

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Planning Commission gave its final approval last week to plans for a sprawling Getty art museum in the hills above Brentwood.

The 4-0 vote came after more than two years of negotiations with homeowners concerned about the impact of the project, which is expected to draw thousands of visitors and dramatically change the hillside site now covered by chaparral and wildflowers.

A last-ditch opposition campaign was mounted in recent weeks, but the Brentwood Homeowners Assn. gave its blessing to the latest plans for the museum after lengthy negotiations with representatives of the J. Paul Getty Trust on Wednesday.

"Despite the limited opposition, I'm personally gratified to see a rare case where the majority of a community supports a project that is going to change the face of a lovely area that these people moved into to enjoy," Planning Commissioner Daniel P. Garcia said.

He praised the design by award-winning architect Richard Meier, pointing out that it will split the museum into several small buildings connected by walkways and underground passages to minimize the impact of the project.

"On the whole, the project is a marvelous one that will enhance the academic and cultural life of this region as well as the whole city," Garcia said.

The 110-acre museum complex is to be built on a hilltop northwest of the intersection of the San Diego Freeway and Sunset Boulevard.

The sole opponent who spoke at Thursday's meeting was Sue Young, a dissident member of the board of directors of the Brentwood Homeowners Assn.

Young is the author of a leaflet, sent out three weeks ago, that accused Getty of planning to build a building that would overwhelm the neighborhood because of its height, density and traffic. She and her supporters are contemplating legal action in an effort to scale down the size of the museum, Young said.

Foresees Problems

"We want it to be further back on the hillside and we don't want to be able to see it, hear it or smell it," she said.

"If millions of rats come down out of there or if the noise is unreal, then we'll have to take that step," she said, speaking of a possible lawsuit.

Although Young said she looked forward to having the Getty Museum in Brentwood because of its cultural benefits, she said the proposed floor size of 900,000 square feet was far beyond the 450,000 square feet originally proposed by the Getty Trust and first approved by the Planning Commission in 1985.

She said the increased size amounted to a broken promise and a violation of the city building code, but Garcia said the 450,000-square-foot limit was always meant to apply only to rooms for exhibitions, offices and other programs.

Partly Underground

He said there was nothing wrong for the rest of the space being used for storage, mechanical equipment and electrical facilities, especially since those facilities are to be housed underground.

"The square footage concerns are not well founded," he said. "Our parameters have been substantially complied with."

Young also said that some buildings would tower as high as 120 feet above the ground, but Garcia said the decision to measure buildings from a mean level of 896 feet above sea level would provide "an aesthetic effect that is as good or better than originally planned."

The agreement reached with the homeowners and endorsed by the commission requires that 90% of the buildings be no more than 45 feet higher than the 896-foot level.

The additional 10% of the buildings can go 65 feet higher, but those structures are limited to the eastern slopes of the site, away from the Brentwood residential area.

Negotiations a Success

Hugh J. Snow, a member of the Brentwood Homeowners Assn. board, said the negotiating process did the most that could be done.

"If we went to court and won, all that would happen would be that it would go back to the Planning Commission, Getty would make the same proposal and it would be approved again, only this time Getty would not be as flexible and accommodating," he said.

Councilman Marvin Braude, whose district includes Brentwood, also urged approval of the plan, saying that it "offers more significant public values than even offered two years ago."

Since the planning process began, he said, the Getty Trust has bought 500 more acres of open land to preserve as natural open space.

He also said there will be less grading of the hilltop than originally planned, and he promised that there will be no access to the museum through the residential neighborhood.

In Favor, for Once

Braude, who recently won voter approval for a citywide slow-growth initiative, got a laugh by saying that for once he was speaking in favor of a major development.

"It is an extremely meritorious project," Braude said.

Under the agreement reached with Getty, the blueprints that will be submitted to the city's Building and Safety Department sometime next year will have to be shown to the homeowner group and to the municipal planning office 30 days in advance.

If the homeowners or the planning director disapprove, the matter will go back to the Planning Commission for another public hearing.

"Now we can go back to work," said Meier, whose recent designs include the High Museum in Atlanta and the Museum for the Decorative Arts in Frankfurt, West Germany.

Both those structures have been described as white and gleaming, but the agreement endorsed by the Getty Trust requires that the exteriors of the Brentwood complex be covered principally with natural stone.

No White Stone

"White stone will not be used," the agreement says.

It also commits the developer to plant evergreen trees and other elaborate landscaping to shield the lavish homes that nestle underneath the museum site against scrutiny from above.

Skylights are to be designed to allow a minimum of light at night, and trellises are to be placed so that they block the light of automobile headlights.

Meier said he had no problems with the latest requirements, which take up three typewritten pages and come in addition to 107 conditions imposed earlier by the Planning Commission.

He said the design process had not proceeded in the last six months but that he was glad that the review came when it did, "when we're more flexible, rather than three years down the road, when it would be more difficult to make changes.

No Encumbrances

"We're very happy we can go ahead now without any encumbrances," he said.

Plans call for the final designs to be ready in the fall of 1988 and construction to begin in the summer of 1989. Construction is expected to be complete by late 1992, with exhibitions open to the public in 1993.

The preliminary design envisions 12 buildings on the site, with a projected construction cost of $100 million to $150 million.

About 5,400 car trips are expected to be generated each day. Visitors will park in a 975-car underground garage near the San Diego Freeway and take shuttle buses to the museum.

In addition to exhibition spaces, the heavily landscaped hillside is to house an auditorium, dining facilities, a research library, an institute devoted to art preservation and a building for the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities.

Ancient and classical art will remain at the Getty's existing museum in Malibu.

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