WAHA Supports Demand for Environmental Impact Report for University Park Project

City planner's decision to ignore provisions of HPOZ Preservation Plan threaten the effectiveness of historic districts throughout Los Angeles.

By Jim Robinson

October 2007. WAHA has thrown its support behind University Park residents opposed to a city planner's decision that threatens the effectiveness of historic districts throughout Los Angeles.

Planner Theodore Irving has tentatively ruled that a proposed, block-long condominium project does not require an environmental impact report, even though it lies entirely within the University Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ).

His findings, along with the project's proposed tract map and zoning changes, will be considered at a public hearing in Room 1020 of City Hall on Wednesday, Oct. 10, at 10:15 a.m. Neighbors and the HPOZ board are calling for a full environmental study.

The proposed, 142-unit project, on two acres fronting on Washington Boulevard, Oak Street and 20th Street, would rise as high as six stories and would violate major provisions of the HPOZ's preservation plan, approved by the Planning Department two years ago.

That plan requires infill projects to be consistent with surrounding historic structures in massing, scale and lot coverage. Most nearby houses and commercial buildings are two stories tall. A few old apartment buildings are three.

The proposed project would put four new, two-story duplexes on the north side of 20th Street, facing a row of existing two-story Craftsman houses on the south side. To the north, behind the duplexes, would rise two large apartment blocks of four and six stories, fronting on Oak Street.

The entire site is currently occupied by a truck catering business, Cater Craft Foods Inc., whose presence has long been out of sync with the neighborhood's homes and schools. Its tallest structure is a small, two-story ice house in the center of the property.

Irving found that the condo project's proposed four- and six-story buildings would have "no impact" on the HPOZ or on the existing houses on 20th Street, which constitute the nationally registered 20th Street Historic District.

He acknowledged that the project's land includes the site of a historic house (Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument #179), which burned to the ground and was demolished in 1978. But his report offers no mitigation, or even consideration, for this still-designated monument site.

Irving's decision - a "negative declaration," in planning parlance - relates specifically to whether or not the project would "cause a substantial adverse change in significance of a historical resource" as defined in Section 15064.5 of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

That question, posed in the project's "Initial Study and Checklist," allowed Irving to choose among four responses: "Potentially significant impact," "Potentially significant unless mitigation incorporated," "Less than significant impact," and "No impact."

Irving checked off "No impact," thereby avoiding further environmental study and the possibility that effects on historic resources might be mitigated.

CEQA Section 15064.5(a)(2) says a resource shall be presumed to be historically or culturally significant if it is included in a local register of historical resources, as defined in Section 5020.1(k) of the Public Resources Code. That code section defines "local register" as "a list of properties officially designated or recognized as historically significant by a local government pursuant to a local ordinance or resolution."

The entire University Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone was recognized as historically significant when the City of Los Angeles established it March 22, 2000, by Ordinance #173160. Ignoring an HPOZ's official Preservation Plan could substantially affect it and, by extension, all of the city's HPOZs..

CEQA Section 15064.5(b)(1) goes on to say that, "Substantial adverse change in the significance of an historical resource means physical demolition, destruction, relocation, or alteration of the resource or its immediate surroundings such that the significance of an historical resource would be materially impaired."

In addition, CEQA Section 15064.5(a)(1) says historical resources automatically include those listed in the California Register of Historic Resources. The California Register automatically includes federally registered historic districts – such as the adjacent 20th Street Historic District.

"For all these reasons," WAHA wrote to Irving, "it is clear to us that the project proposed for 902 W. Washington Blvd. has potentially significant impacts on historical resources and requires a full environmental study, including public hearings, before it proceeds further."

Aside from historic considerations, neighbors are seeking a formal review of the project's effects on traffic, parking, air quality, noise and other environmental issues.

For example, the project's Traffic Impact Study forecasts a net increase of 731 daily trips on adjacent streets. The project's only entrance and exit gates would be on Oak Street, directly across from Norwood Elementary School. A Department of Transportation review concludes that streets fronting the project may need to be widened but offers no specifics.

Much of the Oct. 10 hearing will focus on Anastasi Development Co.'s request to combine the site's 10 parcels into one and change the zoning on most of the land to commercial manufacturing.

At present, the site's two northern parcels, facing Washington, are zoned [Q]C2-2-HPOZ (commercial); its three center parcels, facing Oak, are zoned P-1-HPOZ (parking); and its five southern parcels, facing Oak and 20th Street, are zoned R3-1-HPOZ (multiple dwelling).

Although Anastasi's proposal is for residential use, the company has applied to change the zoning on the center and southern parcels to [T][Q]CM-1-HPOZ (commercial manufacturing). The two northern parcels would remain commercial.

That would permit future use by a broad list of manufacturing businesses, including electronics, baked goods, ice cream, toiletries, laboratories, packaging, and storage or warehousing.

The new zoning would match that of adjoining property to the west, where a warehouse operates on land zoned CM-1-HPOZ. Neighbors say that zoning is an aberration in a residential neighborhood, and that such inappropriate zoning should be phased out rather than expanded.

WAHA has been dealing with the same developer regarding an 1890 Queen Anne cottage, the Henry Obee house, which sits on another Anastasi site on the south side of Washington Boulevard, between Hoover Street and Vermont Avenue.

In May, the city's Cultural Affairs Commission voted to make the cottage a historic cultural monument, but the City Council has yet to approve that designation. WAHA members are searching for a new site for the cottage to prevent its demolition.