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Thu, Jun

Pan Am Equities: LA River Megadeveloper Gets Caught Lying to Atwater Village

LOS ANGELES

OVER-DEVELOPMENT ONSLAUGHT-Billionaire Manhattan developers are proposing a surprise 419-unit apartment mega-project on the Los Angeles River -- next to a long-promised state park -- and recently explained themselves to the local community. They ended up showing quite a bit of contempt for Atwater Village and Glassell Park, the communities they seek to gentrify. 

The mega-development, dubbed “2800 Casitas” after the dead-end riverside street where the sprawling luxury housing would be shoe-horned, would radically remake the Glassell Park/Atwater Village community. As envisioned by developer Pan Am Equities, the massive project would dramatically impact a scenic and woodsy stretch of the LA River bird flyway, near a laid-back art-scene locale along the river, called the Bowtie. (Photo above.) 

Pan Am’s is among a frenzy of proposals that would shoulder aside LA’s lively civic discussions about re-greening the Los Angeles River, supplanting that public debate with developers’ private plans for dense, luxury “waterfront” housing in what are now working-class areas. 

Pan Am, owned by the billionaire Manocherian family, which owns 85 buildings in Manhattan alone, was drawn to LA by growing word that you can buy Los Angeles land, get the local land zoning tossed out in a backroom deal at City Hall, and then build as big -- and as inappropriately -- as you want. 

Having already held backroom meetings with City Hall leaders, Pan Am Equities was trying hard to win over the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council’s Environmental and Land-use Committee, by sending a local, Atwater Village architect, Mark Motonaga, to speak at its September meeting at Christ’s Church. 

Motonaga is a principal with Rios Clementi Hale Studios, the mega-project’s designer. Because Motonaga was filling in for the Manhattan developer, he had to repeatedly turn to Pan Am representative Reed Garwood -- sitting in the third pew of the chapel -- to answer questions.

And that’s when Garwood told the ugly fib, that Pan Am Equities’ plan was purely preliminary.

In fact, Garwood blithely assured Atwater Village and Glassell Park residents that Pan Am hadn’t even filed an application for a land zoning change. 

That wasn’t even close to the truth. 

Atwater area resident Cheryll Roberts held up Pan Am’s detailed, 90-page, land-rezoning application submitted to the city and chimed in, “Yeah, you did. I have it right here.” 

Ninety pages long -- hard for a developer to deny they’d already filed it with Los Angeles City officials. 

Pan Am wants to jack up the zoning from a furniture storage and shipping building to a far more intensive and river-impacting round-the-clock use: several hundred humans and their several hundred vehicles, wedged next to a supposedly coming public river park. 

The Coalition to Preserve LA is sponsoring the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative on the March 7, 2017 ballot to protect communities like Atwater Village and Glassell Park from wildly inappropriate land-zoning changes known as “spot zoning.” 

The once-denigrated LA River, one of the nation’s most important bird flyways and a rare natural resource for the entire Los Angeles public, is now among the most-threatened land in LA.

The Coalition has pressed Mayor Eric Garcetti to end ex parte (backroom) meetings between developers and City Hall politicians that cater to developer greed and terrible planning like 2800 Casitas. 

Nobody disputes that by the time residents in places like Atwater Village hear of a project such as 2800 Casitas, backroom deals have already been made between the developer, local LA City Council members and planning officials. The public is cut out entirely, until far down the road.

At the meeting, residents from Atwater and nearby were shown a slide presentation and artists’ renditions of buildings soaring as high as 85 feet, prompting them to question how this out-of-character-development on the banks of the Los Angeles River could possibly represent smart planning. 

Everyone questioned the tall boxes along the river and near charming old neighborhoods of architecturally interesting one- and two-story homes. At more than 60 housing units per acre, on 5.7 acres, 2800 Casitas would set a major precedent, encouraging a luxury housing stampede of developers demanding zoning riverfront changes from the local LA City Council members. 

Pan Am’s big buildings “look like a fortress,” as one community member remarked, while others questioned the intelligence of creating a giant community on a small dead-end road. 

“Have you talked to the fire department about this?” Committee Chairman Larry Hafetz asked. “There generally has to be two outlets.” 

With a nod to the nearby active Hollywood Earthquake Fault that travels along Los Feliz Boulevard and runs deep into Atwater Village, resident Diahanne Payne said: “What if the 2 Freeway (on the proposed mega-project’s north border) collapses? People would be trapped. I’ve got a problem with that. 419 units means 840 cars or so. That’s an access problem. God help the poor suckers who live on Casitas Street.” 

And the proposed buildings, Payne said, “Look like tenement buildings, no matter how much green you add to the walls.” She meant the developer’s plan to somehow mask the huge structures with vines. 

Larry Hafetz cited two other communities now fighting the gridlock and neighborhood destruction brought on by LA’s City-Hall encouraged luxury housing frenzy. According to warnings by the city’s housing department, the overdevelopment has left a huge 15% vacancy rate in all LA luxury housing built in the past decade. 

Hafetz said: “The community needs to be preserved. This is not Hollywood or Silver Lake. Our community is the river. Density is going to be a hard sell.” 

(David Futch writes for 2PreserveLA.org. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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