Sunday, October 23, 2016

Silver Lake residents to challenge Waterloo townhouse project

Rendering of 10 new townhomes to built on Waterloo Street in Silver Lake

SILVER LAKE — A group of Silver Lake residents have appealed a decision that would permit a developer to build 10 new homes in the 1400 block of Waterloo Street.

The city’s East Los Angeles Area Planning Commission on Wednesday is scheduled to review the appeal filed against a proposal to carve up two existing lots into separate parcels for the construction of 10, single-family homes with 20 parking spaces. Planning Department staff have recommended that the commissioners deny the appeal.

Neighbors have said the Waterloo development, which would be built under the city’s small-lot division ordinance,  is too large for the area and that the new homes would overlook the backyards of those who live on Coronado Terrace. Many have also raised concerns about noise and the lack of compatibility between the contemporary-style townhomes and nearby bungalows dating from the 1920s.

The area planning commission’s decision can be appealed to the full City Council. Click here for meeting details and location.

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  1. Not going to happen. This development falls clearly within the small lot subdivision guidelines.

  2. Do you mean the 1920’s bungalows that have been stuccoed over and completely cannibalized? From this post you would think they are trying to build these town homes next to the Gamble House.

  3. Wrong, C.Phylis. The development does NOT fall within the small lot subdivision guidelines, it is in violation. And I note, the goals enumerated in the “guidelines” are MANDATORY, the project “cannot be approved” if those goals are not met. Those “guidelines” are an official and enforceable and mandatory policy — even the Planning Department says they are a policy.

    When you make a voluntary choice to go the small lot subdivision route and have the benefits it offers, you are accepting all the limitations and restrictions that go with it, including building as tall or big as the zoning might otherwise allow — you are limited by what already exists in the neighborhood, and if that is well less than the zoning would allow, then you can’t go to the zoning.

    Right off, that project is clearly well taller than anything else at the location — a violation of the goals requiring it be compatible with what “exists” in the neighborhood. The height of this building is out of whack with the rest of the neighborhood — that in no way is compatible with the height existing there now. If they are going to ignore this goal, then the “project cannot be approved,” according to the policy. I also note, even to meet the highest existing in the neighborhood is not where the height limits end. If a lower, one-story house is next door, that limits the project more, things must be done to significantly lessen any height impact on the next door neighbor.

    From the pic, it clearly does not have the required front setback, which again, must be no less than the prevailing setback existing there. If they are going to ignore this policy, then the “project cannot be approved.”

    Just from the picture, another violation: At that height, they need a driveway of at least 20 feet wide (if it is 28 feet or lower; if it is over 28 feet in height, they must have a 28-foot wide driveway). Instead of having the driveway at the required width, they are building even more, squeezing even more on the lots than would be allowed.

    The number of parking spaces they are putting in is in violation. The rules when you have 10 or more units is that you must have two parking spaces per unit, PLUS additional parking for guests, At 10 units an additional 2 1/2 spaces (which would be rounded to three spaces) are required. That means they would have to have 23 parking spaces — but they have only 20. Sure, they have so overbuilt that they have no space to actually pay any attention to the legal limitations and add three more parking spaces, so they choose to ignore the requirements. Well, this is in violation, they must add a minimum of three more parking spaces if they want that many units. If they don’t add them, they cannot have that many units. If they don’t have space for that many units plus the minimum required parking spaces — then they know how many units they would actually be able to do legally.

    From the picture, it is clear the front setback is in violation. The setback for an SLS must be no less than that prevailing in the neighborhood now — and that area has notably bigger setbacks than what is in this picture with it being built nearly right to the sidewalk. Again, squeezing more there than there is space for, more than is allowed.

    The small lot subdivision policy specifically says the goal is NOT high density. Yet, that is the only thing any of the developers around here are proposing, the maximum and then more than the maximum allowed. The tallest, and taller than allowed. The most overbuilt — and more overbuilt than allowed. The small lot subdivision policy if geared to prevent any blockbuster projects — they are not allowed to be out of whack with the existing neighborhood, they must be compatible — or the “project cannot be approved.”. But this project is definitely a blockbuster — unfortunately, as is pretty much every other SLS that has been shoved in here against community uproar at every turn. By its very nature, a blockbuster is not allowed under the SLS policy.

    If the developers actually would propose projects that are compatible, the community would not be in such an uproar about them.

    I note, this policy was adopted only at the beginning of this year. Any project filed downtown prior to it was not governed by this policy, so that covered most or all of the projects that went through this past spring and summer. But this project here is definitely covered by the new policy — and it cannot be approved as it is proposed here.

    Unfortunately, our city government in downtown does not care anything at all about the law or even its own required policies. They are deeply corrupt, for whatever reason. They ignore the law and enforceable, mandatory policies all the time and approve things that are in violation, often seriously in violation. They give out variances like candy.

    But fortunately, the courts are not so dishonest as downtown. And now, cases have been getting brought to court for various projects around Hollywood, and the courts have been ruling repeatedly that the city has been illegally giving variances and approving illegal projects left and right. Just since August, the courts have ruled in four cases that the city broke the law and stopped the projects in their tracks, one the Target project at Sunset and Western, another one of the big projects by Hollywood and Vine. There is now a court track record that the city has been breaking the law in approving these oversized developments. The court has ruled the variances were given out illegally, the demolition permits were illegal, the negative declaration of environmental effect was approved illegally and a full EIR is required. That will only help any more cases brought to the court to challenge, citing an established history by the city of illegal project approvals.

    What is very unfortunate is that we citizens cannot get a fair hearing or consideration at downtown. We will have to go that route and then file lawsuits in order to get an honest review of a project — and you should expect you stand a very good chance of winning, because what the city has been doing for a long time is illegal. And the track record and prior offenses and pattern is now already established in other court cases from Hollywood. I encourage all those opposing SLS projects to consider going to court.

    Oh, also, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) also applies to these. The city ALWAYS just gives a negative declaration, but these projects have impacts that simply must be fully vetted in a full EIR. Demand the full EIR — the city won’t require it for any SLS at all, but you need to demand it at that level so when you go to court, you can raise that issue. The courts are much more likely to require the full EIR — because the city just breaks the law left and right in refusing to require it. All the impacts people complain about about SLS project are covered by CEQA, even the view (CEQA specifically talks of viewscape as one of the things it covers).

    • Are you going to the meeting?? I hope so with your expertise!! Please!

    • This is an appeal – the project has already been approved. So odds of the appeal winning are dramatically lower than at the original hearing.
      As for an EIR – it’s not a new freeway or 20 story building. The buildings there will be at the same height as a house two or three houses down (due to the hillsides in that area).
      You are right about parking – although with 9 unites, they don’t need more than 2 spaces a unit (ie no guest spots) – which are only needed with 10+ unites. I’m guessing the planning dept waived the guest spot requirement since this was right on the bubble. They’ll find that with so much walkability in the area, they can waive the guest spot requirement…

      • Ryan, downtown is corrupt. And it is not new. But it is overwhelming, across the board. This is just a reality. They will approve anything that the developer presents, requiring no more than a few little tweaks at most. This is the only reason you won’t win an appeal, a first hearing, or an appeal to the City Council.

        In fact, the only way to win this at downtown is if your City Council representative stands up against it on your behalf. But our Councilman O’Farrell refuses to do so. If he wanted it blocked, all the other council members would vote with him on it — that is the practice for anything in a councilmember’s district, the council lets the councilmember have anything he wants — so that when something in their district comes up, they can have anything they want. In effect, each councilmember is dictator of his or her district. But O’Farrell refuses to stand up for his constituents.

        Re CEQA and an EIR, size of a project is not the determining factor in whether a full EIR needs to be done. There is no possibility the city will order one. But the courts very well might, are much more prone to do so.

    • Since you have so much time on your hands Jerry, maybe you can spell out your vision for increasing housing supply so we’re not spending half our income on mortgage. “My housing is already owned or rent stabilised so not my problem – take it somewhere else” is not an answer..

      • You could build nice two-story homes here, and settle for eight of them instead of 10, thus allowing space for guest parking so the streets are not overloaded.

        And with that, you would quadruple the amount of housing. So, what’s so hard about that for increasing housing supply? You can alternatively get greedy and destructive of neighborhoods.

        In fact, these SLS developments around here are one of the major factors housing prices have been skyrocketing here. These things make the huge profits on condos look like chicken feed. These are so hugely profitable — 150% or MORE profit — that they are the new California gold rush. Developers are flooding in here, not just from around the state and country, but from around the world because it is so profitable.

        And with that kind of profit, there is no price the developer will not pay to get that house to tear down. They are outbidding any potential owner-occupant who comes along, denying those people a home. Since developers are willing to pay even $1.5 million or more for a house just to tear it down — because these SLS developments are so insanely profitable — then any potential owner-occupant will have to bid through the cosmos in order to get a house, because this area is overrun with developers buying up everything to build SLSs.

        So, actually, this idea that these are and will bring down housing prices is way wrong, the opposite of what they are doing. They are the factor that is skyrocketing the prices!

        Stop these and the price of houses will return to what an owner-occupant can pay. These SLS projects have so goosed the system that it is pricing out anyone but SLS developers. You see, economics is a LOT more complicated and complex than the first chapter where you learn about supply and demand – that is not all there is too it, that is merely the understanding of a simpleton.

        • I’m sure the developers will settle for 8 instead of 10 units. They always leave room in their proposals to co-opt community reactionaries.

          • Fine. Let them have eight, at two stories height, and with some parking for visitors. I’ll wager that if that were proposed in the first place, this would not be getting challenged. Even the Planning Department acknowledges that the biggest complaint (but not only one) people have with these things is the height.

            But, pay attention to the number of bedrooms — that is where the real density is. Eight units at three or four bedrooms each is just as dense as 10 units at the same total number of bedrooms. Don’t let them lie about lower density if it is the same number of bedrooms.

            I will note, in Los Angeles, the number of required parking spaces used to be linked to the number of bedrooms, not simply 2 spaces per unit no matter haw many people that unit is designed for.

      • @Carc
        SCAG numbers were wrong. Even a Judge determined this to be true in Hollywood and the cat is out of the bag. Its also true for Echo Park/Silverlake. The population forecasts were manipulated to shape unrealistic housing goals and relax the permitting process for developers (and their cash). There’s a surplus of vacant housing at the Orsini’s and now at Jia as well. Just because they build it, doesn’t mean people will come. The gentrifying population doesn’t live as compactly as the folks they are replacing.

        Yes, I know this is rental housing and not single family, but Jerry is right. Somewhere in all this there has to be a balance between providing more opportunities for (sort-of) entry-level homeownership and neighborhood encroachment. Just imagine if a quarter of the lots on your street turned into SLSDs. Even if you live in one of these now, you might find yourself on the other side of the argument.

        • Jennifer, good comments. But a correction: These proposed units are NOT rentals. They are a small lot subdivision in which each house will be sold separately, and not have to deal with condo dues or association rules. (Have fun when you have no association rules to control your next door neighbor who is only 4 inches from you, the typical space between these houses!) They will be the same as any single family house on its own lot.

          And at least some of these units on SLS lots around the area are even more floor space than most single family houses on a full lot! They are typically three and four bedroom houses. This is what the oversized height is about — to put McMansions in very tiny lots. There is one proposed on a tiny part of Hyperion avenue south of Sunset now that is eight units at four bedroom each, and even taller than this one on Waterloo.

          Re the court ruling about the population forecasts, you are absolutely right. That was one of the four I mentioned. They were old, outdated projections — and yes, manipulated. The city chose not to use newer projections, or projections from other sources that did not support what the city wanted to do — and to hell with good planning.

  4. PHL Silverlake Watreloo, LLC is Planet Home Living. Look at the crap they built on the Semi-Tropic Spiritualists Tract – so close to the 2 Freeway. I wonder how the caged rats love takin’ in all that “fresh” air.

    • The concept of fresh air seems to be relative. Chinese immigrants breath freely in the San Gabriel Valley compared to China. They can still see the “air” but it looks better. Westsiders think we’re crazy for breathing this Eastside schmutz which is sweet compared to the San Fernando Valley. The 2 freeway terminus doesn’t seem to contribute much additional pollution to super toxic Glendale Bl..

    • Planet Home Living are the same folks who left Historic Filipino town at the altar. Anyone remember this Eastsider LA post a few months back? http://www.theeastsiderla.com/2014/04/eastside-property-69-unit-echo-park-apartment-site-up-for-sale/

      After suckering the community into their fantastical “vision” for the current hole in the ground at Temple/Union, they declared that they didn’t have the funds to go through with the project and are therefore looking to sell it— AFTER, of course, securing the entitlements and duping local folks into thinking they would actually build the project as promised. The blight that they told the community they’d remove is still there, and for years now.

      They are asking $4.95M to sell the project with the entitlements. They paid only $2M for the land.

      $3M in profit seems to be the going rate for betrayal.

      • That’s not the only hole in the ground you can blame them for. Another of their projects on Santa Monica Blvd. at Manzanita has been a hole in the ground now for about 8-10 months or more. Perhaps they are in over their heads — and maybe none of these projects will do anything but go into bankruptcy with a disaster left for the neighborhood. Its hard for developers with dollar signs in their eyes to say no to yet another project, even if any common business sense says they are already overstretched.

        A problem with that is that the developer can drag this out, with all the negative impact on the neighbors living there, for years. Do a little here and there and maybe finish up in five years of impact on the neighbors instead of two. Or, end up bankrupt and leaving a half built disaster behind.

  5. Honestly who cares? If someone wants to build there—let them. You have houses from the 1920’s which I am sure are not earthquake resistant….. Hello snobbery! A little upset that anything new may change the “look” of your outdated environment. People need more affordable housing in the area–not everyone can clunk down $500,000- $1,000,000 or more on a historic residence, or wants the idiotic upkeep on those places.

    • Do you think these homes will be less than $650000? I don’t.

    • I guarantee you they will be selling for north of $700,000. (look at the price of latitudes on waverly which start at $899,000) So much for the “affordable housing” argument. Personally, I find these kind of developments ugly and ill-planned – the central driveway is reminiscent of bad townhouse developments in the burbs. The cookie cuter modern look will be dated in about 5 years. But to each their own – it’s not my money the buyers will be spending!

    • Jae, you don’t understand these SLS projects or why they are the new California gold rush. None of them are in the affordable range! Minimum price on these if $700,000!

      Now, if you build them at no more than two stories, maybe they would actually be in the affordable range. But people supporting these things keep fighting all the compintats that are the very thing that would make these actually affordable.

      These are NOT being built for the people who live here now. These are three and four-story homes, and with more floor space thann most single family houses on a normal size lot.

      • What does affordable mean in this age of all cash buyers who are driving up sales prices? Why are people paying cash when mortgage interest rates are so low and tax deductible? Maybe they can’t qualify. Is there a story there? Where did the cash come from? Something’s rotten.

  6. Jae, and all the other pro-big development folks out there, this matters to real people. I care. My neighbors care.
    Jerry is right. These developments are hugely profitable for developers. They only raise prices in the neighborhoods, not bringing down the cost by creating more housing. They are indeed driving up the price of land and our beloved little houses become tear downs. If I could afford it I would buy them all to prevent them from being turned into overpriced ultra-modern townhomes. But I would easily be outbid by the developers.
    Those of us who choose to live in neighborhoods of older homes like to live in those neighborhoods. We need better planning and zoning so that older neighborhoods are preserved and new development can occur in strategic areas like commercial and light industrial zones.

    • I still contend most of the older bungalows in these neighborhoods, however beloved, have been stuccoed and otherwise seriously screwed up over the years. Unpermitted additions etc. If you own one, you’re set. It’s hardly a historically/architecturally preserved neighborhood.

    • It’s factually inaccurate that adding new supply to a market drives up prices.

      To the extent that developers are looking to buy houses to rip down and build small lot projects, it is only houses on RD1.5, RD2 and R3 zoning… which are designated by the city for multifamily use.

  7. Small lot subdivisions are only allowed on R-3 multifamily zoned land anyway. And it’s very common for developers to seek zoning variations, since the current code hasn’t been overhauled since the 1940s and contains some outdated elements. Parking requirements in particular tend to be based on a guess made in Florida half a century ago, which is why they often grant variations and might recalculate them during the next round of rezoning. And an EIR is only required if thresholds of significance are reached and cannot be avoided through mitigation.

    I’m not sure if this is a good project or not. Honestly, places closer to Metro stations are better places to accomodate housing growth (and make no mistake: if Hollywood high rises by transit stations get blocked, those people are going to look elsewhere for housing and it will likely be in Silver Lake – every transit-adjacent high rise blocked increases development pressure in low rise neighborhoods). But let’s get the law right when we have that debate.

    • Fakey, you are very wrong. Small Lot Subdiviaions are allowed in ANY zone other than R-1.

      You also are wrong that the current zoning code has not been overhauled since the 1940s. Many neighborhoods not only have been rezoned since then, but the zoning rules themselves have been changed — generally to allow for more, more, more.

      As for the EIR standards, yes, that is right — but these are not being properly reviewed, a negative declaration is simply being given out automatically to everything that comes along no matter the situation there, with the idea that if the opposition doesn’t like it, they can hire a lawyer and go to court. Look at some of these negative declarations — I read one where they said putting a few bushes on the side of the four-story house completely mitigated the four-story height in the midst of a single family neighbrohood! The two things are unrelated! There actually was NO mitigation. These things must be reviewed, and that is what an EIR is for. If they are doing things for which there is no way to mitigate, they must address it in a full EIR. Simply saying it is mitigated does not mean it is mitigated.

      And we find the courts are much more prone to actually follow the law.

      • Jerry -thank you for your comments. What you said is spot on. This is not about being a Nimby – it’s simply about developers not following the law! The issue is not that these developments are bad or that they will ruin the neighborhood. Los Angeles is always changing, from small bungalows in the 20s to duplexes in the 30sn40s to single family homes in the 50s onward. Los Angeles is ever changing. That’s a good thing. As Jerry points out, developers need to follow the process lawfully. The Current Zoning rules are not being followed. That’s the story. Unfortunately, the development process has grown corrupt. City Hall refuses -flat out refuses – to hold developers accountable. We need growth but we need a balanced approach. What Jerry said about scaling this particular project back to the approved height and altering it slightly to accommodate the parking will not keep the developer from making a profit. Yet what we have in our elected officials is a cabal of insiders that are playing games. Just trace all the recent challenges mentioned on this blog and elsewhere. People care about their communities and seek only to retain some semblance of what once was “the quality of life” associated with living in Los Angeles. Yes we will become more crowded, yes we need to get out of our cars, etc, etc. That does not mean we need to sit idle and let our Council members , Planning Department, Building and Safety continue to corrupt this process. It needs to stop. As Jerry noted – there are simple solutions to these issues – but currently we lack leadership. Thank you again Jerry for your comments , knowledge and clarity.

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