The City Council on Tuesday gave tentative approval to a sweeping set of building rules aimed at controlling development along Ventura Boulevard, the San Fernando Valley’s “Main Street.”
Officials say that the measure also will generate money to cope with increasing traffic along the strip.
Initiated five years ago in response to an intense building boom, the so-called “Ventura Boulevard Specific Plan” will affect all 17 miles of the commercial corridor north of the Santa Monica Mountains. It will govern the size, height and use of buildings from Studio City to Woodland Hills, and is designed to revive the small, service-oriented businesses that have lost ground to glitzy strip malls and office buildings.
Described by officials as unprecedented in its scope, the specific plan is expected to win final approval at the City Council’s Jan. 4 meeting. Proponents had hoped that it would be adopted Tuesday, but Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores’ decision to withhold her vote delayed final approval, stirring concern that some new projects may be able to squeak through the door in the next two weeks.
“It is a triumph, not only to the people along the corridor but to the whole city,” said Councilman Hal Bernson, who predicted that the plan may become a city model.
Slow-growth activists were less effusive, saying that in the five years it has taken to prepare the plan, their neighborhoods have changed and their quality of life has diminished, mainly because of large commercial projects and the traffic they generated.
“In Encino we’ve had nothing but runaway development and it really should never have been allowed to occur from Day 1,” said Kathy Lewis, vice president of the Encino Property Owners Assn.
In perhaps the most significant feature of the plan, developers will be charged a fee for new car trips their projects will add to the congested boulevard--money the city will use to add traffic signals and widen streets. The fee will be based on increased traffic measured during one hour of the evening rush period. The “trip fees,” already in use in some Westside communities, will vary among each of the boulevard’s five neighborhoods, ranging from $2,496 per added trip in Woodland Hills to $4,277 in Encino and Sherman Oaks.
The plan also places a limit of 29,000 new car trips on the boulevard, which now has 70,000 car trips daily.
Building heights generally will be limited to two or three stories, although the City Council already has exempted four projects from the plan. Developers of the projects worked out prior agreements with the city.
One project that was denied an exemption, a controversial office and retail complex in Sherman Oaks, may have indirectly prevented the specific plan from receiving final adoption Tuesday. The project, which could be three stories under existing rules but only two under the specific plan, has become the focus of a neighborhood battle.
Benjamin M. Reznik, the attorney for developer Jacky Gamliel, argued that his client deserved an exemption because he was on the verge of obtaining his building permits after 18 months of city review. Reznik failed to win an exemption, but when the specific plan came up for a vote, Flores took the unusual step of withholding her vote, saying that she was concerned about the plan’s impact on projects already in the pipeline. Her move prevented the ordinance from winning immediate adoption with a unanimous vote of 12. Instead, the measure was held over for a second reading on Jan. 4, when it is expected to pass.