Echo Park council votes in favor of 18-home Blackbirds development

Conceptual rendering of Blackbirds/Bestor Architecture

By Samuel Temblador

A proposal by developers to build 18 modern homes near Vestal Street and Baxter Avenue in Echo Park won the support of the Echo Park neighborhood council Tuesday night but not without sparking an emotional stream of public comment and debate.

Developers Casey Lynch and Michael J. Brown are seeking city permission to carve up the site into as many as 18 properties for their Blackbirds development under the city’s small-lot subdivision ordnance. Accompanying Lynch and Brown at the meeting was Barbara Bestor, the architect behind the duo’s development plans. Bestor described the implementation of what she called “stealth density, which would make two or three  houses look like one house” and the “living street strategy,” which would allow surface level parking to be used for other practical and aesthetic purposes,  Bestor concluded that such a new development formula would “reduce bulk … parking and traffic.”

The most vocal of the proposal’s opponents, which included senior citizens, expressed their concerns over the increased difficulty in finding parking. Considering alternatives to driving in order to resolve the issue was out of the question for older residents as they felt it would be impractical to turn to walking or biking over driving.

The majority of residents present however, overwhelmingly supported the proposal, claiming that the creation of the innovative housing would, as one supporter put it, “set a precedent for other communities.”

After the discussion and debate, the board of the  Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council voted in favor of the project  10 to 1, with two abstentions.

The neighborhood council is an advisory body that lack power of land use decisions. The developers must still win approval from the City Planning Department and other agencies  to go forward with their project.


  1. Keep polishing that turd!

    • I think in this case, the “turd” is your lame observation.

      • What are you, her intern? I was referring to her lame attempt to pass this project off as “smart growth” when it’s anything but.

        • What are you? A failed architect who is now working as an intern? If you are going to try to make an observation, be specific and smart and not couch it behind some bland cliche.

          • Specifically, why are we adding density up in the hills where getting around without a car is a challenge? Wouldn’t it make more sense to build dense housing in the flats near shops and rapid transit lines? And why isn’t the NC calling out architect for this. I guess all you have to do is drop a few buzz words and make some flashy renderings with little kids and puppies, and everyone will just ignore the lack of infrastructure on Baxter.

          • @corner soul
            You are supposed to add or update existing infrastructure if its lacking a new development.

          • Oh wow, I was all prepared to defend this, since I’ve had friends that lived in small lot subdivisions up in the bay area, and they were great communities, but corner soul is right. There is no way to add the infrastructure here. Every single persons hat lives there will drive everywhere they go, because there is nothing in walking distance, no bus nearby, and the top of a hill is unbikeable.

            Or Brandon – do you think the developer will build a gondola or bus line that takes people down to Sunset Blvd from up there?

  2. Heh. Stealth density. There seems to be a lot of density going on, some more stealthy than others.

  3. This is GREAT news! Broader housing options and newer housing stock for Echo Park. I’m glad the voice of reason prevailed among the GEPENC!

    • Mrs Hopeful!!

      Hopefully you have your tongue in your cheek with this “Broader housing options”. What mean this? Terminate with extreme prejudice indeed. I think though doth agreeith too much! Thou do speaketh in ad-talk. Living street strategy. Smart growth. Broader housing options. Those blue prints are not recommended for rolling your medical marijuana in. You will get lung cancer before you have the opportunity to drive down your living street and park in front of your smart growth and enjoy the comfort of your broader house

      Join Ron Don instead and say what you mean to speak!

  4. So how did they get around the big parking issue? Are they going to overpark the property?

  5. O yeah, hey developer, in your renderings, don’t forget to put a big EXP on the side of the building as that will definitely be a part of the final outcome. Maybe one in the middle of the street too?

  6. What is the matter with you people! How ever could you give your seal of approval to small-lot subdivisions! You don’t have to give your approval simply because the city ordinances allow small-lot subdivisions on the property, even if as a zoning right! Y0u can still say no — for all kinds of reasons that could legally block it, but also just because you don’t want it regardless of any legal zoning right. In fact, that is how you register you opposition to such ordinances!

    Do you want more and more undersized housing in your neighborhood — you just voted yes, you want more of it. You should have voted against it, to register the neighborhood’s opposition to the ordinance. Build regular size housing there — fine. Build this undersized crap that over time will only because a slum — absolutely no, regardless of zoning rights.

    • people for better design

      Are you high, Susan? Do you know a giant apartment block could go in there? Do you have a problem with affordable middle class housing? Do we all have to aspire to the Palisades?

  7. I still don’t understand where the parking will be. The renderings are vague and useless.

    • There are garages underneath the homes. Although I don’t quite understand the “living street strategy”. What other practical or aesthetic purposes will those drives serve when there’s a car rolling through?

  8. These people are destroying the neighborhood! Cramming more and more teeny weenie houses where they don’t belong. This is so sad:( More traffic and less parking. And what about the economy? I thought it was bad…. yes Susan…. it will eventually become a slum! I can’t believe people voted yes to this. First this fiasco on Echo Park Ave, then the same on Allesandro and Riverside, and now this! Horrible!

    • The economy may still be awful, but these areas are hot right now. If you pay attention to whats selling in these areas along with the pricing you will see the housing boom coming back in certain areas. Go look at the MLS and you will see most anything sort of decent is pending within a week, at prices that make no sense. I think this is why there might be another surge of new developments trying to start up.

  9. Small-lot subdivision makes sense for a city that’s been historically blighted by urban sprawl. Would you prefer urban sprawl? Or McMansions? Or apartment buildings?

    • Urban sprawl is good. It is a big reason why people flee New York and come to Los Angeles! That density in New York drives everyone there crazy. We should not be copying New York’s mistakes.

      Besides all the other problems with them, these small-lot places require you to go up and down the stairs any time you want to go to another room! No one will want to live like that. Anyone in those places will merely be passing through as fast as they can — and that is a formula for serious blight down the line, as no one will be putting any pride and care into the places. It will make for high transiency in the area, never good for a community.

      Yes, apartment buildings that are comfortable and in which people will stay is far better than something that will only be very high transiency and will only go into blight over the years.

      Once these things are divided into small lots, you will NEVER get them back to normal size again. That is, once you make this mistake, it will be irreversible! The only time to fix this mistake is now, before they happen. If you take a wait and see attitude — for what is so obvious will happen — you are only being negligent.

      • Mark, how will subdivided lots lead to blight? There are quite a number of regularly-sized lots in the neighborhood that I would consider “blight.” Are you assuming that all of these homes, which will be sold individually to individual owners, will be rented and maintained to minimal standards? There are already many full-sized lots in the neighborhood that fit this description — as well as many homes inhabited by their owners that stink.

        There are also a number of townhouse developments elsewhere in the city that do attract permanent residents.

        And as for LA’s urban sprawl versus NYC’s density: there are a lot of NYC transplants, myself included, who find the sprawl here ridiculous.

        • You miss the point of the size of these things. You can’t compare these to normal sized townhouses. A normal sized townhouse is very reasonable to stay in for the long term — these undersized places absolutely are not. No one wants to have to go up and down the stairs simply to go from room to room, as is the routine in these undersized lots. No one will stay for very long in places like that.

          High transiency is a VERY bad formula for an area. Its a formula for lack of pride and lack of maintenance. You will find a very much higher proportion of these kind of undersized home not being properly maintained than you will of normal size housing.

          • That’s like saying no one wants to live in Mount Washington or Silver Lake where many properties can easily have 100 steps or more to get from the garage below to the house above. We were doing some work on a project that would need a funiculare to get from the street to the house and they are still willing to pay the $125k to make it happen. Some people are okay with stairs and smaller housing.

            We lived in a tiny Downtown loft with extremely high rent and loved it. Some people don’t need huge housing geared towards people with wheelchairs.

  10. Actually, if I was to compare this rendering to other architectural renderings as of late, this one wins hands down. Definitely not the usual off white stuccoed box that has come to be the ubiquitous “modern” design.

  11. Barbara Bestor and “innovative architecture” in tha same sentence?

  12. @petite girl and @susan — There was a time before your bungalow or duplex was built when people lived in this area in near-rural isolation. Your “I’m here, now pull up the ladder” attitude is short-sighted and selfish.

    • I ‘m not asking them to “pull up there ladder”; I am concerned that there will be 18 mini-houses going up all at once in an area that has narrow hillside streets with parking challenges.

    • You put words in our mouths when you assign that attitude to us. We have not taken that attitude.

      This kid of development is not helpful in the long term, it will be devastating. It inevitably will become a slum. And meanwhile, it is in serious clash with the rest of the neighborhood, is just undersized.

      Frankly, this area and all of Los Angeles has always been built with undersized housing – to make it even smaller still — next you will be arguing that everyone should just live in a dog house, that we’re being selfish not to allow for that!

      This is not the solution to high demand for housing. Frankly, the city should stop screaming for everyone everywhere to move here, through such things as endless pushing for national attention through things like an NFL stadium and other national sports teams. Hey, get rid of the Dodgers — we don’t need that attention. Let the movies film in Wyoming, we don’t need people wishing they were in LA, let them move to Wyoming. Stop spending lots of money to bring all the tourists here you can find. Stop screaming for everyone to come here — and maybe the housing crunch will lightened up.

      • people for better design

        According to the prospectus I saw you’d have to be a pretty rich crack addict to put yourself in one of these places. I don’t know where you’re buying yours, Susan.

      • Susan, why are you living in the second-largest city in the country if you’re so bothered by national sports teams? Why are you living in LA if you hate film production? Perhaps Wyoming is more your speed. (And I was just in Wyoming, outside Cody, some two weeks ago. It’s plenty peaceful there. No filming, no sports teams, just the rodeo.)

      • Such a shame that people insist on twisting what others say and twisting the facts. On the one hand, these are bring touted as a way for the poorer people to buy in; next, they are being touted as so expensive that only rich people will live there. It can’t be both — someone is lying.

        You also missed her point about the sports teams, etc. The point was that LA needs to stop screaming to everyone all over the country to move here. But then, that’s how developers make their money. Hey, in Newark, NJ, they don’t have a major league team, they merely have a bush league one, the Bears. That doesn’t serve to scream to everyone all over the country to go move there. LA should try the same, instead of constantly trying to be the top headline.

        Hey, we MUST slow the inflow of people — there no water to support it. They now want us to drink the water from the toilet (that is what the “reclaimed” water is from the sewers) — so we can justify having ever more people come here. The toilet is the only source for the additional water.

  13. This is standard, ugly, suburban housing. It would fit in any suburb, but Echo Park is *not* a suburb, its the urban core of Los Angeles with a distinct architectual history. I wish the developers had chosen something that would fit into Echo Park and not Chino Hills, Riverside, or wherever. And, I wish the Neighborhood Council would actually demand that new development fit into the existing community (in scale and architecture) instead of trying to create another mini suburb in the middle of the City.

  14. Has anybody asked the question as to how the GEPENC Board members who have
    yet to take the New Ethics Training got to vote? Their votes are not supposed to

    Has anybody asked how the Chair of the GEPENC Land Use and Planning Comm.
    ( also the current GEPENC Vice President)is being allowed to vote? I believe his
    training from the previous term expired in January 2011…

    At least three appointed GEPENC Board members have not had their names
    filed with Empower LA/Dept. of Neighborhood Councils either………….

    Is it any wonder what flies past GEPENC or Empower LA?

  15. people for better design

    Come on gang, density is the reason Echo Park is a successful neighborhood. I used to live in West Adams and as lovely as much of the large lot, single family housing stock is, it doesn’t provide the critical mass necessary to sustain the kind of local restaurant, shopping and gallery revival we’ve seen along Sunset and Echo Park Blvd., etc. Not to mention increasing walkability and safety. We’re not talking about some grand old single-family craftsman being torn down to build a lot-busting apartment building raised above some ugly crappy parking spaces. Live in the real world.

    • Perhaps, but we should add the density on or near Sunset where residents can walk to amenities, not up top of a steep and narrow street where the residents will be forced to drive for 99% of trips to and from their home.

      • people for better design

        It is in fact a relatively short and easy walk down to Sunset if you don’t have to worry about crack and gang houses like the ones this development is replacing. And the street grid overlay (like that in San Francisco) facilitates pedestrian traffic unlike the Hollywood Hills and West Side hill and canyon streets. And as to the griping of residents close to Melrose, the proximity hasn’t hurt their property values. You seem to want EP to be a different kind of neighborhood than it is. And BTW, the historical overlay that others here have advocated has sadly only served to trap West Adams home owners in beautiful homes in a crack riddled neighborhood.

        • It’s a mile or more to get to any of the shops on Sunset, not exactly convenient. And Baxter is a very old narrow street (barely fits two cars) with infrastructure issues (plumbing, etc.) I think we probably agree on what makes a charming neighborhood and what does not, I just think this is a bad location for the density.

          And I’ve never really noticed crack houses or gangsters staring me down in the area. I know the problem exists in Echo Park, but I don’t really think it’s a huge threat to pedestrians passing by (certainly not as much as all the speeding motorists around town).

          • people for better design

            I hear what you’re saying about Baxter and it’s definitely accident alley especially at the peaks. But there are two parking spots for each house on the property which is more than a lot of people in the neighborhood have. And it’s not even close to a mile to Echo Park and not a mile to Sunset. It’s a nice good walk; we do that at least every day in Bernal Heights when we’re up in San Francisco and with groceries.

    • people for whatever

      You don’t see the forest for the trees. Many wish Echo Park would go with a historical overlay as West Adams is. The charm of a close neighborhood with small to medium houses is why we love living in EP. The dense retail on Sunset may just go the way of Melrose. See what the residents say about living on that stretch of over developed retail that doesn’t give anything back to the neighborhood. Echo Park is becoming some wild experiment in architecture and “urban sprawl”. That’s the real world.

      EP Hillbilly

    • People for whatever:

      You don’t see the forest for the trees. Many residences of EP would like to have a historical overlay as West Adams has. The small to medium houses with small multi units in a close neighborhood is the Echo Park we love. As for the dense retail see how it worked out for Melrose. The residents don’t like it. Echo Park is becoming some wild experiment in architecture and “urban sprawl”. That’s the real world.

  16. People for better Design:

    Live in the real world! Uh? Protest the fact to City Council that a development was approved by a bunch of neighbors, including a Planning Chair and VP who had
    no business voting. Then ask the Ethics Commission and City Attorney what
    is needed to reverse the vote!
    Also, look at the area’s Comprehensive Plan and realize that it is flawed in parts
    and dialogue for change that maintains the ambiance of the area and one that is supportive of the ecology. Communities do not need Neighborhood Councils
    but real avenues of dialogue with the City and City Council. We not only need a plan for development but one that takes into account hazards, hazardous and difficult terrain and its impacts on the LA Fire Department serving the area.
    Also, haphazard parking in an emergency can be problematic if not fatal so
    adequate parking must be part of the real world equation…..

  17. Its hilarious listening to old timers about what’s good for my generation. These places are not for you. Too many stairs!
    It’s for me and my homies! We’ve taken over the sunset strip east and now that we’re starting to make some cheese. We’re snatching up houses.

    If I was to have a party, how many peeps do you think could fit in these sweet cribs? Bet I could stuff at least a hundred. And we’ll party at our friends bigger houses if we wanna have a real 300+ bash!

    There are so many more of us than anyone else right now! And we’re ready to buy up echo park!

  18. I think it is a horrible development on a substandard hillside street and the neighborhood deserves better but I do have to laugh at the notion of them becoming $600,000 slums. Take a look around you Susan. You are a long time EP resident and must be aware that abandoned sofas, accumulated trash, brown weed-infested lawns in front of barred window bungalows with peeling paint are still prolific in Echo Park and there are gang bangers hanging out just blocks from your house. The current tense for Echo Park is a slum. I do believe that Barbara Bestor thinks she is doing the neighborhood a favor and maybe she is, or maybe she is just looking to get another glowing article in the NY Times on her hip new development.

  19. Have any of you actually attended the meetings that have taken place over the last few months to voice your concerns to this project?
    When you take a look at all the irresponsible development that has taken place in this neighborhood over the past 15 years– this one seems smart, sensible and attractive.
    If EP residents had taken action instead of just complain to each other– we wouldn’t have the obnoxious, high density development at Delta and Echo Park or those ugly pink stucco apartments across from the Echo Park Mart.
    The Vestal development is a gem compared these! These guys have been responsive to neighbors and have tried to take their concerns into consideration- but they still need to make a buck for their investment- bottom line.
    And as far as blight- I don’t think someone who has paid half a million for their home is going to desert it to move to the suburbs.
    This is the best possible option for Echo Park considering all the non-local developers that are raping our vacant hillsides and lots lately.
    As for parking issues: EP has had parking issues for the last 20 years- since I moved in. Thanks to the many subdivided houses with many residents with cars and no driveway to park them, and those of us that just don’t have a driveway. The new development will have two dedicated spaces each, more than many of us have.
    We need to support the Blackbirds- and let future developers know we don’t want anymore ugly developments in EP.

    • The two driveways and two fire hydrants will likely remove most of the parking on Vestal. Though the units have two parking places, the size of the units will easily support more than two adults with autos. Blackbird’s development and architect Bestor do not want the additional two parking spots added for guest parking as requested by the neighbors. The parking will go from bad to worse if not mitigated in the design.

      • people for better design

        Asking for more than two off-street parking spaces per unit is completely unreasonable given the current parking situation in most of EP. And as to big roommate situations and a flood of cars, I think the costs probably discourage that more than not. And since when do any private houses in EP have “guest” parking spots. This is really beginning to feel very NIMBY.

  20. It’s easy to say NO to everything. I challenge EPers to check this project out. They are not all the same. Check out Barbara Bestor’s website (cool stuff), check out the available plans, check out some of the ideas about urban living that these folks are working with. Go to meetings! I think it has real promise. This is a big chunk of land. So far all the big chunks around here have been maxed out by out of state corporate home builders with deep pockets, huge ambitions and bad taste. These guys, for example, want to build carports instead of garages because most of us don’t park in our garages (me included), we fill them up with our crap or use them for living space and park on the street. Well you wouldn’t do that with a carport…. you would probably actually use it for a car! Plus these guys are from around here! There is a boom going on in EP right now. Big money and big projects are flowing in. It’s important to try to figure out which projects are decent and which ones are lousy. This one is decent.

  21. Mrs. Fam!

    Thank you for your dissertation on the carport! I support covered parking too. I am glad that the feature you chose to talk about was the carport, because I too feel that it makes a project decent. When I am being polite I just say “I liked the special effects”, that way I don’t have to get real about the awful plot!!

  22. Look folks, this project is a reality. It’s gonna happen, like it or not. Nobody who lives on narrow crowded streets in EP hills wants anything but single family homes with natural trees, wildlife and foliage. If anything needs to be changed it’s hillside zoning. Planning for pedestrian/biking communities is all well and good, but how many of you will bike from EP to the Westside, the Valley, etc.? What about people who have physical mobility problems?

    Since the Black Bird Project is likely to be built, it’s best to realize that it’s a much better project than other monstrosities in EP. If they flip the land to another developer, it will be much worse. It’s like voting for the lesser of 2 evils. BUT, as “nice” as this development may be compared to others, they still need to provide more onsite parking by eliminating a unit or 2. Only 4 guest parking spaces will be provided.

    The developers should revise their plans to accommodate the surrounding residents. Those want your voices heard should be attending meetings and be involved. Those who comment, then wipe their hands, have no right to complain. Instead, they should become actively involved to make this project better for the community!

    WRITE LETTERS/EMAILS re traffic & parking concerns!
    Eric Garcetti councilmember.garcetti@lacity.org
    Michael LoGrande, Director — Planning@lacity.org
    Lisa Webber, Deputy Director — Planning@lacity.org
    Alan Bell, Deputy Director — Planning@lacity.org
    Eva Yuan-McDaniel, Deputy Director — Planning@lacity.org
    David Olivo Department of City Planning 200 N. Spring St., Room 701 Los Angeles, CA 90012 david.olivo@lacity.org

  23. Just for the record there is public transportation almost to the top of Echo Park Ave so the people at the top of the hill really don’ have to drive everywhere. Actually we often walk to the bottom of the hill or ride our bikes too. It get’s a little steep tight at the top but a fun challenge non-the-less.

    • What public transit is up there? I just looked at the Metro system map, and it has something labeled PUEP, but I couldn’t figure out what that was, or which transit agency runs it. It does appear on the frequent map, but it looks like you need to transfer to Metro to get anywhere other than a twisty route through Westlake.

      • Yes, there’s an MTA stop as well as a DASH at corner of Baxter & Echo Park Ave. Bikes are great if you don’t have to carry groceries or go across town. What about people with mobility problems? No way can they walk up and down Baxter to get to a bus stop!

        • i’m assuming that people with mobility problems won’t be buying these places due to the previous mention that they have stairs inside of them. on the other hand, I am also assuming that whoever buys them will not be taking the bus anytime soon. the only people I ever see on the DASH are old ladies coming up the hill, moms loaded up with groceries and kids and school kids (i.e. those without cars).

          traffic is going to be a lot worse in EP after all the development is done (although I doubt that this particular development will not have the same impact as the 36 on Echo). i guess that’s the way the cookie crumbles though. there was a time when Sunset was an easy drive, when there was no traffic at all on EP, when you could get across town in 15 minutes on Beverly. those days are gone. it’s not just our neighborhood, it’s all of LA. the crappy part of the whole “walking neighborhood” thing that I keep being touted by city hall is that our city isn’t set up like SF or NYC. we don’t have little grocery stores and other amenities on every corner, and when they put businesses under these new developments it’s always baja fresh, starbucks and jamba juice. we also have a pretty crappy public transit system, so we end up with overly dense neighborhoods with too many people driving to get their day to day things done. I grew up in SF and never even drove a car until i was in my late 20’s and had moved to LA. didn’t have to.

          guess we’ll just get used to it.

      • thats the pico-union dash. . which would be a great way to get downtown but for some reason it doesn’t go downtown- it winds all over the low rise appartment neighborhoods never actually going near where anyone would actually work. . .

  24. I don’t know why this development is raising such eyebrows… Sure, it’s a parking issue, but at least it’s attractive and low-rise. They’re planning to demolish the lot I live on to build a 80+ unit condo building facing Sunset between Waterloo and Mohawk. The plans are ugly, ridiculous and not at all in keeping with the neighborhood vibe of Echo Park. Development is going to happen, but the re-zoning of this area of Sunset for high-rise is a bigger problem then multi-unit bungalow type lots, which are already pervasive in the neighborhood.

  25. people for better design= shill

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