Thursday, January 29, 2009

Legacy of Failed Development

Speculators salivate over the large vacant lots in our neighborhood, usually attempting a zone change and hoping to make a quick buck. Developers get a turkey of a property that often ends up being sold at County tax auction because their money runs out. Most of the large lots are where huge quantities of earth was removed for, and dumped after area freeway construction.

1. Semi Tropic Spiritualists' Tract
Photo: Diane Edwardson, November 2004. El Moran St., just below the historic Landacre Cabin, has been eroding into the lots below for decades. The street is unsafe to drive and was frequently used for illicit activity due to its seclusion and state of neglect. The City barricaded it in the mid-1990s. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

The three 1-acre lots currently under threat of a subdivision and zone change in the Semi Tropic Spiritualists' Tract are currently zoned R-1 for single family homes. Prior to the Silver Lake - Echo Park Community Plan and the Hillside Ordinance, a zone change for a 30-unit apartment building was approved in the early 1980s.

In one of the extensions for the zone change, case # CPC 86-084-ZC, a letter from the developer indicates serious questions regarding soils and engineering reports. The letter admits a number of their soils engineers just disappeared when faced with the challenge of this particular site. The zone change expired unused and the zone reverted to 3 lots zoned R-1.

2. Corralitas Red Car Property

Photo: Diane Edwardson, February 2005. Countless tons of earth were removed for freeway construction in 1960, leaving the Red Car Property slopes to slide in heavy rains. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

The history of failed development on the Red Car Property is long and well documented. More than once, speculators gained approvals for a zone change. Each time the zone change expired unused. Grading was a primary concern. Of course, being in a hole next to the Freeway might have something to do with it too.

A series of Red Car Property owners refused to limit vehicle access to the property resulting in another nuisance. Since the property is used by neighbors as a park, the property has fewer problems with homeless taking up residence.

3. 18-Acre Elysian Park Parcel

Photo: Diane Edwardson, 2003. 18-Acre Elysian Park Parcel is off Riverside Drive, between Allesandro and Stadium Way. It included the steep hillsides surrounding it and extends up and over to Whitmore St. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

The City acquired the 18-Acre Parcel off Riverside Drive for Elysian Park with Prop K funds in the late 1990s. Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park (CCSEP) was the driving force behind the acquisition. Review plans for this parcel on the Rec & Parks' website.

Prior to park acquisition, Foodcraft Coffee wanted to put warehouses on the site. A required Environmental Impact Report (EIR) showed 40' (deep) of uncertified fill. The uncertified fill would have to be removed and recompacted or removed entirely before construction. Like the other large lots in our neighborhood, it was the site of considerable earth moving before and after freeway construction.

Until a few years ago, the site was often used by off-road motorcyclists as a practice field, complete with orange cones to mark the track and jumps off the wooded hillside. CCSEP, community members and CD13 asked the LAPD and Rec & Parks to block vehicle access to the site.

Other trivia: a homeless encampment has been in the grove of trees off Riverside for at least 20 years. In the late 1970's, the Hillside Strangler dumped at least one body on the property from the closed off portion of Landa St.

4. Menlo Property

Photo: Diane Edwardson, November 2007. The Menlo Property Wall looms over Riverside Drive north of Fletcher. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

No one is really sure how long the giant wall has been on Riverside Drive just north of Fletcher. UPDATE for more of the wall history see posts from: April 6, 2009 and April 7, 2009. Until 1955, the Red Car Trolley ran through the property. In the late 1970's, the Hillside Strangler dumped at least one body there.

For decades, an unfinished retaining wall from an abandoned development seemed ready to collapse into Riverside Drive. A developer planned to build 80 units of apartments on the site in the 1980s. The developer ran out of money and abandoned the site. The community was left with a huge nuisance property, tagged with graffiti, a frequent site of illegal dumping and a big attraction for transients in motor homes.

In the late 1990's, after years of effort by Silver Lake Residents Association, then City Councilmember Jackie Goldberg asked the City Attorney to take action. The current owner is Sam Menlo, a convicted slumlord, sentenced to live in one of his own slum apartment buildings in Orange County in 2000. Menlo continued neglecting the property, allowing dumping to pile up, refusing to do brush clearance, then covering the hillside in plastic and letting the caster beans grow up through the plastic. The City Attorney compelled Menlo to make the retaining wall functional, stabilize and landscape the hillside.

About six years ago the grading and landscaping was completed. The slope is watered and maintained regularly. However, soil compaction allows for little to grow. There are still problems with graffiti vandals, homeless and dumping. Hard to believe, but it is better than it used to be.

In 2007, Menlo's management company approached Silver Lake Neighborhood Council's Urban Design & Preservation Advisory Committee, wanting to build condos on the site. After two meetings, the plan for zone change and subdivision was never filed.

2-18-09 UPDATE: Never say "never." Developer filed for 120 unit condo development. They need a zone variance, plan amendment and site plan review. There will be a public process. For more information watch this blog as well as the SLNC UD&PAC meeting agendas.