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VA asks Army Reserve to return Westside parcel

Times Staff Writer

The head of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ sprawling complex in West Los Angeles has asked the Army to return a prime parcel of land the VA gave away decades ago, rather than sell it to a developer.

In a letter to the Army Reserve, Charles M. Dorman, director of the VA’s Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, urgently requested that officials “reconsider your decision to transfer ownership of the Army Reserve property.”

The 10-acre site, on the southeast corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Federal Avenue, has been the subject of an intense dispute, with the Army arrayed against a solid front of neighbors and businesses, as well as city, county, state and federal officeholders. Opponents contend that development of the land will further congest the already traffic-choked area of Wilshire Boulevard near the 405 Freeway, and unfairly deprive veterans of use of the site.

The parcel was part of the larger, 388-acre VA site, which was originally bequeathed to the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in 1888 with the proviso the land benefit veterans in perpetuity. In 1955, the VA, which had come into ownership of the land, transferred the smaller parcel to the Air Force Reserve, which, in 1975, transferred it to the Army Reserve.

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“Selling off such land to the highest bidder for commercial development would thwart the intent of the original land grant as well as the subsequent transference of the property from the VA . . . for a military reserve,” Dorman wrote.

Dorman’s letter “is a formal request, and to us that’s a very big step,” said Laura Lake, a leader of the Coalition for Veterans’ Land, which has led opposition to the sale. “We’re really, really pleased that the Army is now officially on notice.”

The letter was addressed to Brig. Gen. William D. Frink Jr., commander of the 311th Corps Support Command of the U.S. Army Reserve. Representatives for the 63rd Regional Readiness Command, the Los Alamitos-based unit to which the 311th belongs, could not be reached immediately for comment.

The developer in question is JSM Capital, which has proposed three high-density alternatives for the site -- 300 hotel rooms and 500 residential units; a 3-acre park with 300 hotel rooms and 300 residential units; and a 1.5-million-square-foot medical facility.

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The company revealed the proposals at a Sept. 13 public hearing, the first step in an environmental study required by federal law.

JSM was the only bidder for the property in what the Army Reserve termed a “real property exchange.” The developer is required to build three Army Reserve centers worth about $100 million, and in return receive the right to develop the Wilshire Boulevard parcel.

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james.ricci@latimes.com

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