By Tony Cella
Barlow Respiratory Hospital is working under an exclusive agreement with a developer interested in building hundreds of housing units on the leafy grounds of the Echo Park hospital, according to the hospital director. But some neighborhood residents say they don’t believe the project has attracted a developer, claiming the hospital is trying to buy time.
Barlow CEO Margaret Crane announced the agreement at this week’s meeting of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council, which was considering sending a letter to city officials asking them to dismiss the hospital project’s environmental impact report that was filed back in 2009.
The hospital has proposed rezoning the nearly 25-acre property next to Elysian Park to allow the construction of at least 600 housing units as part of a plan to permit Barlow to sell off the land to finance the construction of a new hospital on a corner of the site. The project, which became an issue in the recent City Council races, has met with opposition from several community groups and prompted the L.A. Times to publish an editorial against the zoning change.
In her remarks before the council on Tuesday night. Crane asked board members for more time because officials planned on making changes to the report instead of creating a new one. Crane said the alterations focused on minor changes to details the developers had made. The CEO said the changes related to minor things like the type of gravel and soil used in the project but didn’t mention specifics because she hadn’t brought the information to the council meeting. Re-doing the entire report would cost the hospital a considerable amount of money, she said.
Crane attributed the slow pace of the project on her company’s “conservative nature.” “We don’t want to get halfway through and find out it won’t work,” she said.
In an interview after the meeting, Crane declined to discuss what parts of the environmental impact report that she wanted to change or release the name of the developer, saying they’re under an exclusive agreement.
Echo Park activist Christine Peters said she thought Crane was trying to buy time for the project and asserted that the environmental report, filed in 2009, was outdated because traffic patterns and air quality conditions had changed during the waiting period. Peters suspected the hospital hadn’t found a developer and didn’t want the report dismissed for monetary reasons, which some members of the council believe are related to filing fees associated with the city planning department.
After the discussion, the Echo Park council members decided to postpone the matter until their next regular board meeting. Board member Tad Yenawine, who asked the council to hold off on the measure, said it was unprofessional to pass the motion without a letter drafted and wanted to meet with the developers.
Officials for Barlow Respiratory Hospital, which has tried several times in recent years to find a buyer for its property, says it has no choice but to tear down the century-old buildings, built as a tuberculosis sanitarium in the early 1900’s, and build a new hospital to comply with earthquake safety codes. To finance the project, the hospital seeks to build high-density housing units on a portion of its property, which has been met with ire by local residents who claim the proposed residential project will change the nature of the neighborhood.
Stakeholder Luiza Padilla-Mavropoulos threatened to chain herself to the green area around the hospital and risk arrest if construction began. Mavropoulos, who was appointed to the board later in the evening, said no one in the community could afford to live in the proposed condos, which she called a means of gentrifying the neighborhood.
“The project makes me sad, very sad,” she said.
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.
Jesus Sanchez, the publisher of The Eastsider, is a board member of the Echo Park Historical Society, which is opposed to the Barlow development