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Controversial La Brea Willoughby Project Will Shrink

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One of the more peculiar development battles to watch--one involving an ill-timed puppet show and free groceries--the five-year fight between homeowners and a developer over a housing project at the corner of La Brea and Willoughby avenues looks to be nearing a conclusion.

An agreement has been reached between locals and La Brea Gateway LLC to scale back the height of the apartment project, according to Lucille Saunders, who heads the La Brea Willoughby Coalition, one of the groups that sued over the city's 2009 approval of the 7-story residential building. According to Saunders, the 84-foot project will be knocked down to 48-feet or roughly 4-stories along La Brea Avenue, for instance.

Ted Snyder, chief executive officer at Symphony Development, which is involved in developing the project, said he couldn't talk about a compromise because of a confidentiality agreement. He also disagreed with Saunders' assertion that the legal issues were completely resolved, saying the city, which was also named in the lawsuit, needs to sign off on any deal (a spokesperson for the City Attorney's office didn't immediately return an email). But Snyder agreed a smaller project is being discussed. “We are talking about reducing density and height," he said.

And Los Angeles City Planner Kevin Keller says that his office has already had preliminary conversations with the developer about a different building. “My understanding is that they’ll be resubmitting revised plans for review," he said.

The city approved the 291-unit La Brea Gateway project back in 2009, amid a series of bizarre and questionable actions. First the City Council considered the project on the same day they were treated to a puppet show, leading to a showdown in which police had to escort Stephen Buscaino, a Melrose Neighborhood Association member out of the building after Buscaino protested the council was interested in watching Pinocchio than hearing the community's concerns about the project.

Additionally, a neighborhood activist who opposed the project offered $50 worth of free groceries to anyone who showed up at City Hall to object to the project, raising questions about how many people actually opposed the development.

Meanwhile, others criticized how the residential project would re-shape La Brea Avenue. Agreeing with some locals that the project was too large, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the project would "thrust itself up against" the neighboring single-family homes. The Supervisor's Third District includes part of La Brea Avenue.

Overall, Yaroslavsky envisions La Brea as a commercial corridor, not a residential street. "La Brea is really a boulevard not an avenue," he said in an interview last November. "It should be a strictly commercial corridor," he added, saying the street should be modeled more like Melrose, with low-rise retail shops. "It could be one of the greatest streets.....with thousands of people [walking] down that street," he said.

"La Brea to me is a poster child for the crossroads that we are at," he concluded. "Where you have [to do] rational planning."

Meanwhile, this scaled-down La Brea Willoughby project will still have to go through a planning process, but developer Snyder says he hopes to break ground early next year and complete the project in 20 months.

Originally, a Bristol Farms was talked about as being a component of the project. Asked if the grocery store was still planned, Saunders wrote back in an email this morning, that "specialty retail" is coming, but didn't specify further.

· Free Groceries Helped Bag La Brea Willoughby Opposition [Curbed LA]
· Puppets Trump Public [Curbed LA]