Groups Protest Zone Change for Site of New Mall
Citing traffic congestion and the potential for overdevelopment, homeowner groups have asked Los Angeles officials to reject a zone change put forward by Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky for the newly built Beverly Connection shopping center.
The proposed change would rezone some property at the mall site as commercial but would limit further development there.
“This is going to give a major windfall to the owner,” said Harald R. Hahn, president of the Burton Way Homeowners Assn., who spoke against the proposal at a zoning hearing last week.
The Beverly Connection is substantially completed, but the sometimes nasty squabble over its rezoning reflects concern by community activists that their neighborhood, a section of Los Angeles bordered by Beverly Hills and West Hollywood, is being overrun by development.
Speakers, including Laura Lake, who unsuccessfully ran against Yaroslavsky in the April municipal election, suggested that developer Avi Lerner may be enjoying unfair access to public officials because of his attorney’s 12-year marriage to Alisa Katz, Yaroslavsky’s chief deputy.
Yaroslavsky was out of town and unavailable for comment, but Ginny Krueger, his planning aide, said the zone change would actually limit development. “To call this upzoning is erroneous,” she said. “The point of the zoning action is to freeze in what’s already there.”
She said the objections appear to be “more politically motivated than otherwise.”
And Howard Katz, Lerner’s attorney, brushed off the suggestions of a conflict of interest.
“I don’t deny being married to her, but I don’t see how that means anything,” said Katz, who worked for Yaroslavsky from 1975 to 1980. He met his wife while they were employed by the councilman.
“I have my own connections to Zev besides my wife, and that’s the last connection I’d use,” he said.
Alisa Katz said that she has “no responsibility whatever” for city planning and that she has cleared the situation with the city attorney’s office. “I am totally insulated,” she said.
At issue is the site of the Beverly Connection, 8.3 acres that lie in the shadow of the 900,000-square-foot Beverly Center shopping mall and are less than a mile from proposed large-scale developments of more than 1 million square feet each at the Farmers Market and at the May Co. site on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard.
The Beverly Connection shopping center, directly across La Cienega Boulevard from the Beverly Center, is already occupied by a Ralphs supermarket, a music store and a sporting goods store. Plans call for the introduction of a six-screen, 2,100-seat movie complex and at least two restaurants. A proposed nightclub was dropped after neighbors raised objections.
Opponents argue that the proposed zoning change would allow the Beverly Connection to expand and draw more traffic to an area where major intersections are regularly jammed.
The Beverly Connection site stretches east of La Cienega, south to 3rd Street and north to Beverly Boulevard, all streets that have long been zoned for commercial use. A 5 1/2-acre chunk of land at the center and rear of the property, however, is zoned for residential use, even though, under a 43-year-old variance, it is largely occupied by a parking structure.
The proposed change would classify the entire parcel as commercial property. At the same time, it would impose a 291,000-square-foot limit on development there--about the existing square footage.
Lake said the zone change would allow a 67% increase in density for the Beverly Connection site.
“It’s a giveaway and a sweetheart deal and upzoning in a critically impacted area,” she said. “If that area isn’t the gridlock capital, I don’t know what is.”
Lake, who won 32.7% of the vote in April against Yaroslavsky’s 62.8%, said an environmental impact report should be prepared before the action is approved.
Diana Plotkin, president of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Assn., said the 5 1/2-acre area zoned for residential use should be used for a mixed-use housing project instead of being rezoned for commercial use.
“We are talking about three times more development than exists there right now,” she said. “I can’t imagine any councilman wanting to give a gift of millions of dollars to any developer, especially when he was elected on a slow-growth platform.”
Hahn gave Yaroslavsky credit for brokering an agreement that made all the parties what he termed equally unhappy until now, but he said the proposed zone change opened the door to abuse because it drops restrictions on the size of individual types of stores in favor of the 291,000-square-foot cap on overall development.
“It’s going to be a horror,” he said, urging that the zoning action be delayed until the center is fully occupied. The restrictions needed to minimize disruption of the neighborhood will then be easier to determine, Hahn said.
“We don’t know from day to day what changes will have to be made to make this project viable,” he said. “We don’t want a white elephant in this community.”
Present Limits Cited
Howard Katz said the project is already encumbered by “oodles of restrictions,” including a requirement for at least three hours of free parking, as in the Beverly Center.
“Parking creates revenue, and we don’t think we should be cheated out of revenue,” he said.
As for the complaints by Hahn and others, he said that they have strayed into an area that should be left up to elected officials.
The homeowner groups, he said, “want to control what’s happening at our site, but they can’t give us a conditional-use permit, and they can’t give us liquor licenses. All they do is stir things up. . . . They want to be social engineers, and unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.”
Katz discounted as ridiculous critics’ suggestions that the zoning change would allow the developer to tear down the $25-million Beverly Connection to build a massive project like the Beverly Center.
“This place is built out,” he said. “There’s no open space. For the very near future and probably for the long future, there’s not going to be any re-use of the site.”
A ruling by a zoning official on the proposed change is expected by the end of September.