Many Echo Park and Silver Lake residents have over the decades waged long and often times unsuccessful battles against real estate development, from a proposal by the Dodgers to build a football stadium next to the ballpark (Peter O’Malley backed off) to a plans for 2,500 apartments on a Silver Lake hillside (the neighborhood got a 95-home, gated community instead). Now, a new crop of development has prompted a new generation of residents to become more vocal and involved in development issues. They are newbies when it comes to neighborhood activism but they are following in the footsteps of others who have waged similar battles in the era before Facebook and computer-generated renderings. Here is background on two residents – an Echo Park attorney and Silver Lake industrial designer – who decided to take a stand against development they see as out of place.
Echo Park attorney fights 888-unit project with a website
“Neighborhoods change, and development is a fact of life in Los Angeles,” said attorney Ari Bessendorf, who moved to Echo Park six years ago. “The question is really one of scale.”
What is certainly out scale, in Bessendorf’s view, is a proposal by Barlow Hospital to develop its leafy campus next to Elysian Park into a residential community with as many as 888 units of housing.* In his first foray into neighborhood activism against real estate development, Bessendorf created a website – SaveElysianPark.org – to spread information about the project and help residents wade through a complex environmental impact report. Bessendorf, who wrote the content, recruited a friend who is a graphic designer and a cousin who designs websites to help create the SaveElysianPark.org. It took about a week to put the site together.
Bessendorf decided to get involved after watching a three-story, townhouse project rise on the corner of Echo Park and Delta avenues. He was left frustrated by the “terrible state of Echo Park Avenue” while the project was left partly unfinished after a previous owner lost control of the project and how the 36-unit condo development, now being completed by a different owner, has fundamentally changed the character of the corner. “When I heard about the Barlow project, I knew I had to get involved.”
Barlow Hospital has said it needs to develop and sell most of its 25-acre property to pay for a new hospital to be built on a corner of the site. But Bessendorf said Barlow’s effort to secure the necessary development rights does not square with the operational mission of a hospital, which opened more than 100 years ago to treat respiratory problems. “There are many aspects of the [draft environmental impact report] that appear seriously inadequate, not least of which is that the project does not appear to account for overflow of 1,000 cars into the neighborhood in excess of the proposed parking spaces, ” said Bessendorf. “The fact is that the Barlow site, while not officially part of Elysian Park, is integrated with the park in terms of geography, wildlife, traffic, and riparian issues.”
Bessendorf said he thinks his website can play an important role in keeping residents informed about the project, provide access access to the documents that Barlow has filed with the Department of City Planning, and give people the resources they need to get involved.
“Politicians come and go, but the people who live in the community have a responsibility to safeguard the natural heritage of public open spaces,” Bessendorf said. ” I absolutely think that the project can be stopped, as long as committed citizens remain involved and put pressure on the appropriate city agencies and elected to officials to properly account for the project impacts.”
After working on clean development and energy efficiency issues around the world, Bessendorf said it was finally time to put his skills to work to protect his own neighborhood, where he would like to buy and restore a home one day. “This is a chance to be involved in my local community and put into practice community values that I think are vital.”
Silver Lake industrial designer challenges developer drawings
The renderings above that read “75+ unit Colossal Apartment Building” are definitely not the work of developer Frost/Chaddock, which is planning to build a trio of apartment buildings with about 300 units in the Sunset Junction area of Silver Lake. These and other renderings were created by R. Reyes, an industrial designer and Silver Lake resident. Reyes claims the renderings provided by Frost/Chaddock under play the size and impact of the buildings.
“I wanted to call attention to these grossly out of proportion buildings by showing them in and amongst the existing site,” said Reyes, who did not want his first name used. “My hope is that they will be scaled down to an appropriate size. I really do fear they may ruin the personality of the Sunset Junction irrevocably.”
Matthew P. Levy, vice president of acquisitions and development at Frost/Chaddock said the buildings presented in Reyes’ renderings are not of the right size and scale. The renderings “don’t accurately present what has been proposed,” he said. Still, Levy said he is willing to meet with Reyes to talk about this renderings, facts about the project and his concerns.
It’s the first time that Reyes, who owns a condo but rents an apartment in Silver Lake near Effie and Micheltorena, has ever taken a stand against a real estate project. “This is the first time I’ve decided to do something in opposition to anything, ever,” said the 41-year-old resident. “To tell you the truth I’m usually an extremely private person, so I was initially very apprehensive doing this.”
Reyes is not an architect or planner. But his work requires him to come up with drawings based on architectural standards and specifications. He spent about two hours on ArchiCAD, a computer aided design program, to come up with his version of the Frost/Chaddock buildings. Reyes said he would like to see new retail and residential development at Sunset Junction but on a much smaller scale.
“I’m hoping that my renderings bring more community opposition to the project at its present scale,” Reyes said.
* The Eastsider is a board member of the Echo Park Historical Society, which is working with other residents and groups to oppose the Barlow project as currently proposed.