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"Don't Change the Arts District" Says Guy Who Arrived Last Year

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The Arts District is having a tough time right now. As a result of years of intensive investment from businessowners and developers, it has become a desirable neighborhood to live in. For people who realized last year that it was a desirable neighborhood to live in, this is a huge problem.

In just the past few years, the Arts District has gotten two grocery stores, tons of fancy restaurants, several places to get a $6 cup of coffee, an outpost of Urth Caffe, an enormous "holistic megaplex" whatever that is, easy access to transit, tons of "creative office space," an enormous starchitect project, and a prime spot on the LA River waterfront, which will be getting a very nice restoration in the coming years. (Much more is on the way.) The artists, then, were mostly priced out of the Arts District years ago (they seem to have shifted south); the neighborhood today is filled more with the artisans who make your summer blockbusters, high-paid film and TV types who can afford the insane rents and insaner sales prices (which can run well over a million dollars).

The city has been working on something called an Interim Live/Work Zone that would help the Arts District grow without losing too much of its character. The rules of the zone would allow developers to build new housing in the neighborhood (up to 1,500 units total), so long as the units are live/work (e.g., a retail space with an apartment above it) and the developers also create public benefits, like murals or public plazas or affordable housing. Since the existing industrial zoning of the neighborhood only allows buildings up to four stories, they would also let developers build up to 100 feet (about eight stories). The rules also include no-duh design standards, like ground-level windows and trash enclosures. That sounds like a pretty good compromise to allow more people into a hot neighborhood with the resources to handle more residents, right? So obviously the neighbors are fighting it.

Some opponents, like architect Mark Rothenberg (who has been in the AD for more than 20 years), seem perfectly reasonable, asking that the city appoint an architectural review board to make sure new buildings in the neighborhood aren't totally awful. That's a great idea. Every neighborhood in LA should have an architectural review board, actually.

But other opponents seem worried about all the potential newcomers that might actually live in those new buildings: "Do we want it to just become a place of high-density population? … Or a place that appeals to the creative class and allows space for the creative dynamic to grow?" developer Yuval Bar-Zemer asks in the LA Times, which has never met a NIMBY cause it wouldn't throw its weight behind (it declared the Arts District "the next Meatpacking [District]" a full two years ago, incidentally).

The Arts District already appeals to the "creative class," which is a wealthy, homogenous group that includes tech workers and lawyers and is entirely distinct from actual artists (so let's keep it real on the "creative dynamic" talk), and that class will, statistically, love it even more when it's full of the kind of low-grade, mixed-use density you find in a neighborhood full of converted warehouses and eight-story (tops!) live/work buildings.

Also, yeah, a neighborhood with plenty of space and lots of amenities should become denser in a city that is short on housing and very short on reasonably-priced housing.

Anyway, it's one thing for long-time residents to worry about the look and feel of their neighborhood, but the new guys, the guys who've been lured in by the pourover coffee to snatch up those fancy condos, those guys are mostly worried about their views. Nevin Seus bought a unit in the Beacon Lofts last year and frets that a new building next door will "block prime downtown skyline views from the Loft's rooftop patio — their only communal space." Now he gets it: "People wake up and realize that the neighborhood we like so much could change in a really drastic way."
· Some fear Arts District development plan would ruin the neighborhood [LAT]
· Arts District Working on New Rules For a Cooler Gentrification [Curbed LA]
· Mapping the Arts District's Unstoppable Wave of Fancification [Curbed LA]