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Firm settles suit over mall high-rise towers

Times Staff Writer

The owner of the Beverly Connection mall has agreed to withdraw plans for two high-rise residential towers as part of a settlement with two community groups that challenged the expansion in court, citing concerns about density in one of the city’s most congested areas.

Burton Way Foundation, one group that sued the developer and the city of Los Angeles over the project, said Tuesday that the mall’s owner would remodel the aging retail property at La Cienega Boulevard and 3rd Street but would drop plans to add a 177-unit assisted-living center and 62 luxury condominiums. A spokeswoman for City Councilman Jack Weiss, who represents the area, said the owner is Vornado Realty Trust, a real estate investment trust based in New Jersey.

Community activists expressed relief that they would not be facing the specter of increased traffic in the already busy area.

Vornado also agreed to make available 100 parking spaces to merchants on West 3rd Street, an area that has become increasingly hip in recent years. Residents have long complained that the street’s many restaurants, in particular, compound traffic problems by providing inadequate parking.

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“Rarely has a community challenge to an inappropriate development met with such total success,” said Harald R. Hahn, president of Burton Way Foundation. In its 2006 lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the group contended that the city had violated state law by approving the project without requiring an environmental impact report. The Beverly Wilshire Homes Assn. filed a separate suit in the case.

In approving the project, according to court documents, “the city ignored evidence from traffic engineers, from prior studies officially used to approve other nearby projects, from public agencies and from community residents alike” that potential traffic effects had been understated and inadequately analyzed.

Laura Lake, a land-use consultant who advised Burton Way Foundation, said that few community challenges of development projects go to court and that, if they do, the community groups tend to lose once the cases go to trial.

“This is a very unusual situation because it was so blatantly clear to the trial court” that the environmental impact report was required, she said. “It was a massive project with major impact.”

Under the settlement’s terms, Vornado agreed to pay more than $300,000 in legal fees and court costs for Burton Way Foundation. Half of that amount will be paid only if the city approves the project after an environmental review, said Beverly Grossman Palmer, an attorney for the group.

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martha.groves@latimes.com


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