Slow Growth Wins 2 Rounds in Westwood : Compromise Ends Suit Over Ship's Site Project

Times Staff Writer

An 18-month battle over a proposed high-rise development at the site of the old Ship's Coffee Shop in Westwood came to an end last week when the Los Angeles City Council approved an agreement with the developer which allows a scaled-down version of the project.

Wilshire-Glendon Associates, the developer, also pledged in a separate agreement with a Westwood homeowners' group to "make all reasonable efforts" to relocate the landmark restaurant--including its distinctive futuristic logo--in the new building. Ship's closed in 1984 after 27 years at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Glendon Avenue.

The City Council voted to allow a 296,000-square-foot office building--about 20% smaller than the development originally proposed--in exchange for the dismissal of a suit against the city by Wilshire-Glendon Associates.

A spokesman for the developer said the $88-million development will probably be about three or four stories shorter than the 26-story project originally proposed.

Wilshire-Glendon Associates had sued the city to challenge an ordinance that requires builders in Westwood to pay so-called "traffic mitigation" fees that go toward alleviating congestion caused by new development. Wilshire-Glendon will be required to pay the city about $3.3 million in such fees for the proposed high-rise now that the suit has been dropped.

"What we get out of this is a smaller building and the payment of $3.3 million, which will go toward solving traffic problems in Westwood," said Deputy City Atty. William Childs. "So we have essentially mitigated the environmental problems, which are essentially traffic problems."

Kenneth B. Bley, an attorney representing Wilshire-Glendon, said the agreement with the city is part of a larger settlement the developer worked out with Friends of Westwood, a homeowners' group.

Friends of Westwood sued the city and Wilshire-Glendon in February, 1986, claiming that the city should not have issued a building permit for the high-rise without first having conducted an environmental impact report. The city and the developer claimed the project met all city codes and requirements and did not need an environmental study.

Efforts by the group to block construction of the project during the legal dispute led to a landmark court decision in the group's favor that has since prompted sweeping reforms in the way the city handles building permits for large developments.

Last spring the California Supreme Court let stand an appellate court decision regarding the group's effort to block construction. The appellate court said a lower court should have issued an order to temporarily block construction because the homeowners had a good chance of winning a trial on the building permit question.

The appellate court reasoned that the Wilshire-Glendon project fell within the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires environmental reviews of any project that may have a significant effect on the environment.

The ruling came as a shock to city officials, who had argued that the state law did not apply to so-called "ministerial" acts, such as issuing routine building permits. As a result, Mayor Tom Bradley in July ordered the Department of Building and Safety to require environmental reviews of proposals for large commercial and residential developments before building permits are granted.

Later this month, the City Council begins hearings on a proposed ordinance that would make such reviews mandatory.

In the meantime, Friends of Westwood, pleased to have effectively won the building permit battle before going to trial, approached Wilshire-Glendon in June about an out-of-court settlement.

In addition to the provision regarding relocation of the Ship's Coffee Shop, the agreement they reached also states:

- Wilshire-Glendon must build a development no larger than 296,170 square feet--the same provision included in the developer's agreement with the city;

- The developer must set aside 3,500 square feet of the building for uses that serve tenants in the building and do not attract customers from outside;

- The building must include a community room that will be available to residents free of charge;

- The building must provide about 760 parking spaces--roughly 170 more than required by the city code;

- Wilshire-Glendon must pay Friends of Westwood $130,000 to cover the group's attorney fees and costs.

"It is the end of a good and important story," said Barry A. Fisher, an attorney for Friends of Westwood. "The most important thing is that we won in a court a decision that will affect planning throughout Los Angeles. In terms of the specific project, what we have won is a very substantially scaled-down building with important mitigation of the congestion that would otherwise have been caused by the project."

Bley, the Wilshire-Glendon attorney, said the company settled for a smaller project, even though it remains convinced it could have defeated Friends of Westwood in court.

"We are providing more in every sense of the word than what is required" by the city, Bley said. "It was decided that it was better to reduce the size and be sure we were able to build, rather than take the chance of being able to build the complete building. . . . The one thing that is clear in any development project is that delay is costly."

The settlement between Friends of Westwood and Wilshire-Glendon was conditioned upon City Council approval of the agreement between the city and Wilshire-Glendon.

Only Westwood-area Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky voted against the agreement, but spokeswoman Michelle Krotinger said his opposition was only symbolic.

Krotinger said Yaroslavsky voted against the agreement because the project, while significantly smaller than originally proposed, is still larger than would be allowed under a proposed Westwood community plan that was being considered by the Planning Commission last week. Yaroslavsky, however, made no attempt to block approval of the agreement, she said.

"It was just kind of a statement," Krotinger said.

City officials said Wilshire-Glendon must submit its scaled-down building plans for city approval before construction on the project can begin.

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