The Los Angeles City Planning Commission agreed Thursday to study a first-come, first-served plan for growth at Warner Center that critics say will lead to a rush by the richest developers to build the biggest possible projects as quickly as they can.
The commission, without taking a formal vote, directed Deputy Planning Director Robert Sutton to study the environmental effects of such a development blueprint.
Such a plan would favor those property owners able to build first, and thus "create a rush to the land office," said Jim Dawson, chief planning deputy to Councilwoman Joy Picus.
"It would be unfair to the small property owners who are not ready to build right now."
Dawson said his office is concerned that the study might strengthen large developers, who he said want such a plan to shape the growth of Warner Center.
The suggestion for such a study was made in a presentation to the commission Thursday by some of Warner Center's biggest property owners, several of whom already have plans for maximum development of their parcels under consideration at City Hall.
Since last fall, the Planning Department has been working to prepare a specific plan for Warner Center that would permit 35 million square feet of development--20 million feet more than now exists.
The new development scenario the planners will study also would permit 35 million square feet. But the two scenarios differ, according to Sutton and Dawson, on the question of how much any individual property owner would be allowed to build.
The proposal preferred by the Planning Department generally would guarantee that the owners of each parcel in the 1,200-acre regional commercial core would have some minimum development rights.
But under the alternative proposal that the staff was directed to examine Thursday, development rights would largely be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, according to Sutton and Dawson. That could mean that the first group of developers to secure construction permits from the city would exhaust all of the allotted authorizations.
Not true, said George Mihlsten, attorney for the development group that owns the Blue Cross property in Warner Center.
Mihlsten said his clients and other large Warner Center developers do not have a hidden agenda but asked for the review to ensure that the specific plan the city eventually develops will be legally defensible.
Last fall, Sutton was directed by the commission to scrap an initial plan to allow only 26 million square feet of development. A plan with those constraints would not make it feasible for developers to build in Warner Center nor allow the area to become a full-fledged regional center, the commissioners said. Sutton was subsequently directed to prepare a plan for 35 million square feet.
Picus has opposed development of this size.
Meanwhile, Robert Gross, president of the Woodland Hills Homeowners Organization, complained that the Planning Commission violated state open-meeting law requirements Thursday when it discussed the Warner Center plan and gave its staff new directions regarding it.
"This tells me that the development community is running the Planning Department," Gross said. State law, he noted, requires that the public be notified in advance of topics to be discussed by the commission. Picus' office also expressed displeasure over the lack of notice.
No mention of Warner Center appeared on Thursday's Planning Commission agenda. The subject was discussed under the agenda heading "director's report."