Apartment planner trying to build case

first_imgA requirement that a Warner Center developer offer below-market rentals as part of a traffic-reduction strategy has touched off a debate that could test the limits of Los Angeles’ affordable-housing campaign. Proposed more than two years ago, Ronald Simms’ plan would bulldoze the longtime Valley Indoor Swap Meet and replace it with a 438-unit apartment complex. But his project stalled as city leaders grappled with a building boom in Warner Center that led to tough restrictions on apartment and condo construction. Residential developers in Warner Center are now required to offer 25 percent of their units as affordable to secretaries, mall employees, Starbucks managers and other middle-income residents who work within a three-mile radius. The goal, city officials say, is to encourage workers to live within walking distance of their jobs. But Simms said that requirement, which would force him to rent 109 units at below-market rates, is expensive, unfair and could be illegal because the city cannot demonstrate that offering “affordable” rents will reduce traffic congestion. “It is economically unrealistic and I’m upset that it’s being imposed on me in the guise of traffic mitigation,” Simms told the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee during a hearing Tuesday. Simms is appealing the requirement, as well as a $1 million traffic fee imposed on his proposed five-story project at 6701 Variel Ave. Councilman Dennis Zine, who represents the area, said he’s prepared to fight for the affordable-housing requirement. “If (the developer) prevails, I’ll come back with an ordinance that says no more development,” he said. Developers in Warner Center and other communities are watching the case closely to see whether the affordable-housing requirement – one of two in the city – will survive a full City Council vote April 10 and an expected court challenge. Located in the far southwest corner of the San Fernando Valley, Warner Center is a mix of office towers, industrial businesses, malls and pricey residential complexes. The Warner Center Specific Plan, which was adopted in 1993, encouraged a dense community with both jobs and homes. Residential developers were exempt from transportation fees and given other construction waivers. The plan envisioned 3,000 additional living units by 2010, but in building boom the Planning Department approved 3,000 units by 2005. Not all units have been built yet. Neighbors complained that the boom would ruin the employment-housing balance and inundate the center with traffic. Zine proposed a moratorium on new apartments and condos, but the Planning Department and City Attorney’s Office persuaded him to compromise and allow a project-by-project review of residential complexes. Under a law passed in December 2005, residential projects would pay traffic-impact fees and be required to set aside 25 percent of units as so-called work-force housing. The housing would be made available to people who earn 120 percent or less of the county’s median family income. That’s roughly $58,000 for a single person and $83,000 for a family of four. The allowable rent would be about $1,463 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,647 for a two-bedroom unit. But Simms argues that the requirement is not about cutting traffic, but rather is a city mandate to create affordable housing. In a filing with the city, Simms argued that his project would replace the popular Valley Indoor Swap Meet, which on a typical weekend day draws more than 700 vehicles to the site, with “spillover” parking taking up all the spaces on nearby streets. And he notes that the requirement allows that if the units are not leased by local workers after four months, the owner can still rent them to people who work outside the area. He also argues that many families considered to be work-force households still would make too much to qualify for housing under the city’s specified income limits. “What comes in as a traffic-mitigation measure is really subterfuge,” said attorney Ben Reznik, who is representing Simms. “It’s an inclusionary, affordable-housing condition that this City Council has previously rejected and been unable to adopt citywide.” kerry.cavanaugh@dailynews.com (213) 978-0390160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more