Warner Center Plan Lambasted by Both Sides : Development: Residents and builders unite in their opposition to the proposal at a public hearing, but for different reasons. The guidelines appear to please no one.
Developers, landowners and Woodland Hills residents alike blasted the city’s blueprint for Warner Center at a public hearing Wednesday night, but for opposing reasons.
“Watch my lips: Woodland Hills. Woodland Hills--not Manhattan,” said Jana Negy, one of many residents complaining that the plan allows development on a scale that would swamp the neighborhood.
Developers and landowners took the opposite stance, complaining the plan is too restrictive. “This is a bad plan crafted by good people with good intentions,” planning consultant Garry Morris said to the crowded hearing at Parkman Junior High School. “This will not become a good plan until it protects and serves the property owners and residents. Right now, it does neither.”
Los Angeles city planners will incorporate Wednesday’s testimony into a final plan that is scheduled to be presented to the Planning Commission later this year.
“From here on, we’ll be trying to reconcile the issues that people have and the points that are being brought up” with the draft plan, said Frank Fielding, chief city planner for San Fernando Valley. “We’ll try to put something together that will be better than what we have.”
The proposed Warner Center Specific Plan--released last month--allows construction of an additional 11.8 million square feet of commercial and residential space over the next 20 years, increasing the center’s size to 26.8 million square feet. That is a reduction from the current limits, which would allow about 35.7 million square feet to be built.
City planners, estimating that $1.3 billion in road improvements would be needed in and around the center to handle the increased traffic, have called for construction of elevated streets and improved freeway off-ramps to relieve congestion. About half the road improvements would be financed by developers, who would be charged $14,990 for each daily car trip it is estimated that their projects would generate.
Councilwoman Joy Picus, homeowners, developers and even some city planners agreed that the current plan is flawed, but for different reasons. Picus and the homeowners said Warner Center works as is and predicted that further development and elevated roadways will destroy the suburban nature of surrounding neighborhoods.
“We already have a successful center,” Picus’ planning deputy Jim Dawson said before the hearing. “It’s somewhat unique. We have an urban center in the midst of suburbia. For the most part, Warner Center is accepted.”
But, Dawson said, Warner Center could outgrow its welcome among residents. “Our general concern is that Warner Center continue to do it right so we don’t end up with an urban center incompatible with the surrounding area,” he said.
Although planners want to review the growth guidelines when development reaches 20.8 million square feet, Dawson said the councilwoman wants construction to stop at that point so the public can decide whether further growth should be allowed.
“This leap to 26 million should not be a leap of faith,” Dawson said of the square footage allowed in the plan.
Developers, too, complained about the plan, calling it so restrictive that it would discourage construction in the center. The plan nearly halves the amount of development currently allowed, and several property owners complained that their land would lose value if it is adopted.
Several developers asserted that because of the unusually high traffic fees, developers will refuse to build in Warner Center--now one of the Valley’s premier business addresses--because it would become too expensive. That, they said, would be an even greater threat to the neighborhood because builders would locate projects outside the center, where controls requiring ameliorating measures for the community are not as strict.
Both homeowners and developers faulted the city for not taking into account the effects of future mass transit systems, but Fielding said they probably will be added to the final version. Mass transit was largely left out of the current plan because city officials did not know if or when proposed rail lines would reach Warner Center, and they needed to specify interim measures to control traffic, Fielding said.