Friday, February 2, 2007

Semi-Tropic Spiritualists’ Tract Development Update 1-20-07

Photo: Edwardson, Semi-Tropic Spiritualists’ Tract

Future site of 14 homes?

January 20, 2007 -- City Councilmember Eric Garcetti’s staff hosted a community meeting with the developer of the Semi-Tropic Spiritualists’ Tract Garden Lots. Link to current area map:

Subdivisions and zone changes go through a discretionary process in City Planning. Under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), the public has the right (and responsibility) to comment, in writing or in person, on the development’s impacts. The developer has filed for subdivision with City Planning. Currently, a public hearing has not yet been scheduled.

The three 1-acre lots (currently zoned R-1 for single family homes) were once a large garden for the tract of primarily 2,500 sq ft lots. The current development proposal is a “small-lot subdivision” into 14 lots: each lot between 3,000 – 6,000 sq ft, grouped around a private driveway from El Moran near Allesandro Ave., plus a large “open space lot” on the upper portion closest to El Moran and Peru St.

Small-lot subdivision is a new form of development allowing developers to subdivide into lots as small as 2,500 sq. ft. (City standard lots are 5,000 sq. ft.), with homes as close as 2 inches apart.

Citing the house fire two nights earlier on Baxter St., neighbors expressed concern regarding small lot subdivision in hillside areas. Since small-lot subdivision is a new program, the LAFD has yet to weigh in on how it should be implemented in hillside areas. Neighbors also wanted to know if the new development would be subject to “Red Flag Days - No Parking,” like many of the neighborhood’s streets.

While the developer stated it was not a gated community, many neighbors pointed out that it looks like one, and would be easy to gate, especially once the new residents saw the area homeless population.

The developer did not supply adequate before and after drawings of the hillside to evaluate the amount of grading that would take place with the proposed development. Although, the developer’s engineer stated it would be more than 6,000 cubic yards of cut (earth to be removed and recompacted or removed entirely from the site).

The development also shows 14 large flat rooftops visible from much of the neighborhood. Neighbors currently have a view of natural beauty of the hillside. With small-lot subdivision, where homes are closer together than on standard hillside lots, it would seem appropriate and desirable to have functional rooftop amenities like rooftop gardens and patios, or at least incorporate design elements into the rooftops as a fifth elevation.

While the developer stated he would be leaving a substantial portion of the upper lot as an “open space lot,” he has yet to contact a park agency, like the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, regarding either dedication or donation for public open space. Additionally, without public access from Allesandro through the development to the open space lot, it would not be usable open space for the community.

Above: 1912 Baist's Atlas, Surveys of Los Angeles, G.W. Baist

Andrew Sears, president of the Committee to Save Silver Lake’s Reservoirs writes to Councilmember Garcetti:

“What is needed is a holistic approach, creating connectivity between the 18-acre Elysian Park annex and the Corralitas Red Car Corridor. Now is our last chance to ensure that our parks, new and old, are connected and walkable. This connection, if properly implemented will protect the Rim of the Valley Equestrian Trail easement, and further the visionary concept of connecting Elysian Park with the LA River at Fletcher. Such a trail system, a long-term dream of the community, has been cited in the LA River Master Plan, and will help to improve the severely limited open space problems we have in the district.”

Sears continues, “Public access needs to be ensured through the proposed developed lot to allow for a pedestrian/equestrian friendly path between Allesandro and the Reserved Open Space above the lot. By 'friendly,' I mean at a grade suitable for horses and people on foot. As planned, the grade is extremely steep and in most areas is supported by retaining walls up to 13’. The failure to preserve that corridor will seal the fate of any hope for connected parks in the Silver Lake/Elysian/LA River area.”

The overwhelming reaction at the meeting to the developer’s plan was negative. While it is better than the earlier plan to regrade the entire hillside, it still has a long way to go before becoming acceptable to this community. Funds for outright acquisition of the lots by a park agency are limited. It is not unreasonable to expect a developer to work with the community toward an acceptable solution to both sides. The developer wants a discretionary action from the city to build his project. In return for added density and effects on the surrounding community; neighbors should insist on specific mitigations if the City grants subdivision and zone change, increasing the value of the developer's property.

Garcetti’s staff suggested the developer and the community work out their differences before this proposal goes to public hearing. No date for a hearing has been set. Garcetti’s staff will be taking our comments into their discussions about the Semi-Tropic Spiritualist’s Tract.