A Canadian developer plans to drop 201 units of housing on the current site of an Echo Park hardware store as part of a multi-story complex that met with much criticism at a community meeting Tuesday night, with some of those in attendance deriding the Sunset Boulevard project as a “massive fail” and similar to a “Century City” type of development.
A representative of Aragon Properties said the 107,100-square foot structure on a 2.5-acre site on Sunset Boulevard near Everett Street is smaller than city zoning laws allow The property, which is currently home to a Reliable Do It Center, has the capacity to hold 226 housing units by the city’s standards but Aragon opted to go with a smaller number, company general manager Fred Shaffer told members of the Planning and Land Use Committee of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood. In addition to 201 units of housing, Aragon plans to include 221 parking spots and bike storage on Sunset as well as a duplex on the portion of the lot adjacent to Everett.
The company, which is in the processes of purchasing the property, won’t decide to lease or sell the dwellings until later on depending on what business model is most “market appropriate” as the structure becomes ready for occupancy. Although the developers had yet to see the results of a traffic study, Shaffer told meeting attendees he “did not expect a parking impact” from the development.
Members of the committee, however, said the project is bound to cause a serious neighborhood parking problem.
Committee member Christine Peters denounced the prospective parking arrangements as a “massive fail.” Even if only one person lived in the plotted 68 studio apartments and two resided in the 115 one-bedroom apartments, the off-street parking planned by Aragon as inadequate for the occupants of the complex.
Committee members joined Peters and predicted residents would end up parking along Sunset, where parking is prohibit on street cleaning days, and side streets. The strain on parking would hurt existing families, who already struggle to find space. “You’re harming your tenants, and you’re harming your community,” said board member Gustavo Moreno
A resident of the neighborhood blasted the plan for excluding retail space, saying a cafe in the apartment complex would benefit both the community and the developer and embrace mixed-use zoning. He said the housing, as planned, offered residents no areas to congregate. “Sunset doesn’t have to be a freeway,” he said.
Committee members joined the resident’s criticism, saying the limited parking spots forced residents to use local options accessible by foot or public transportation. Not only is the bus system terrible in the community, Peters said the merchants simply didn’t exist. “You’re adding 400 cars, but you’re not adding pedestrian amenities and you’re expecting people to walk,” she said.
Developers pointed to the inclusion of a fitness center and meeting spaces within the apartment as evidence of existing amenities. Aragon representatives said unoccupied commercial space was available within walking distance of the apartment. In theory, residents could open business catering to the apartment dwellers’ needs.
Shaffer said the developer decided against including retail space on the first floor because doing so eliminated living space, killing the profitability of the venture.
“We need to keep in mind economic viability,” he said.
The hilly terrain limits the number of floors to three on the front portion of the building, with the rear building climbing to four floors. Building another floor would surpass the maximum height allowed by the city building code. “If we had a flat site, that would’ve been easier,” he said, referring to adding commercial space.
Peters rebutted by noting the community’s master plan allowed developers to build higher if they included mixed uses, such as retail spaces.
The general manager said the city planning department had told him that wasn’t possible. The plans stipulated, however, five percent of the on-site housing was to be reserved for residents with “very low” income, defined as a total income of $41,400 for a family of four by the city housing department, which granted the developers wiggle room in other areas.
Shaffer said more height also meant more costs because the builders would have to create bigger retaining walls on the hillside behind the complex.
The developers expressed a commitment to making the project work and thanked the board for its input. Although the company does not own the property yet, Aragon representatives said they had placed a six figure deposit “that was non-refundable at this point” on the project.
Residents who saw the mock-ups were awed by the size of the planned apartments.
“It looks like Century City,” said one stakeholder.
Tony Cella is a freelance reporter who has covered crime and grime in Los Angeles, New York City and the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. Click here to contact Cella with questions, comments or concerns.