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Are We Witnessing the Rise of the Downtown LA NIMBYs?

Developers of the Alexan Tower made big alterations to their building renderings after organized opposition from neighbors. via Urbanize LA
Developers of the Alexan Tower made big alterations to their building renderings after organized opposition from neighbors. via Urbanize LA

Downtown Los Angeles is a hotbed of new development, but while proposed high-rise towers in neighborhoods like Hollywood have faced fierce opposition from anti-density neighborhood activists, construction in Downtown has largely continued unopposed by locals. That may have finally changed. As Downtown LA's revitalization continues to grow and mature, its residents have also had a chance to coalesce around common interests, forming into sophisticated and efficient agents of neighborhood activism. Downtown is now seeing the first signs of emerging "not in my backyard" attitudes potentially putting a damper on the neighborhood's development frenzy, reports the Downtown News. A conflict brewing over the proposed Alexan Tower at the corner of Ninth and Hill is the latest battleground where NIMBYs are flexing their muscle.

Residents living near the site of the proposed Alexan tower have been fighting off the development for months now, arguing that a sleek modern tower is "incompatible" with the Historic Core. They're worried that developer Trammell Crow's $140-million, 26-story tower will alter the character of the neighborhood and block views of the historic Eastern Columbia Building's clock tower next door. To strengthen and legitimize their argument, several Downtown residents, many living in the Eastern Columbia Building, formed the Society for the Preservation of Downtown Los Angeles, a non-profit group operating with the goal of preserving and protecting the Historic Core. Through watchful city planning and "zones of respect" for historic buildings, the group hopes to maintain the character of the neighborhood as it faces a boom in development.

They seem to have a bit of political sway too. The SP-DTLA, which boasts a membership of about 150, made their presence known at a city planning meeting in November. While developers presented renderings of the Alexan, dozens of SP-DTLA members were on hand to voice their displeasure, delivering the group's signature chant "don't block the clock," and city planners took note. New renderings of the Alexan released this week (via Urbanize LA) show that Trammell Crow has acquiesced to some of SP-DTLA's demands—the tower now sits farther west on the lot, creating a greater distance between the buildings. UPDATE 1/19: There is actually no change in the distance between the Eastern Columbia Building and the Alexan in the old and new designs. The change involved moving the podium of the Alexan building three feet from the Eastern Columbia garage. The above-ground parking lots that face the Eastern Columbia Building will be given concrete walls to block the view and sounds of an active parking garage. Alterations to the Alexan's facade at street level now have it more closely matching the horizontal alignment of the rest of the street.

The Alexan's facade now better matches neighboring buildings via Urbanize LA

Getting those concessions speaks volumes to the power of the SP-DTLA, but they're small potatoes compared to the changes the group was really seeking. Trammell Crow met with SP-DTLA last fall in an attempt to gather their input and perhaps find a common ground in their conflict. At the meeting, SP-DTLA proposed a few design ideas that would address their concerns, chief among them to lower the tower's height from 26 stories to just 14. This would bring the Alexan's height in line with height restrictions on Broadway, even though no such height restriction exist on Hill Street (and the tower's lot). Trammell Crow says a 14-story tower is impossible, as a shorter tower on the lot would not be able to turn a profit.

The saga of the SP-DTLA echoes another recent NIMBY conflict with a similar ending. Residents of the Flower Street Lofts have been fighting off the proposed 28-story Amacon Tower at Eleventh and Hope Streets for years—they claim the Amacon would add too much traffic to the area and "block their natural light," as well as fire lanes. Since 2007, the residents kept the development at bay through a series of legal appeals until finally being defeated in 2014. The tower still has not begun construction, but when it does, the Flower Street Lofts residents did gain some concessions for all their protesting—he project now includes a larger space between the buildings, a decrease in the height of the parking structure, and a "green wall" on the podium's exterior to make it more aesthetically pleasing to the neighbors.

NIMBY groups may have to settle for small concessions for now, but developers seem to have wakened a sleeping giant. As Downtown Los Angeles grows more affluent, the influence of NIMBY groups can only grow stronger. The playbook is there. The experience is there. Now its just a matter of time.
· High Tensions Over a High-Rise [Downtown News]
· Revised Design Emerges for Controversial DTLA Tower [Urbanize LA]
· New Downtown LA Tower Would Block Views of Historic Eastern Columbia Clock [Curbed LA]
· Luxury Tower With Some Very Tiny Units Planned For Southern Historic Core [Curbed LA]
· DTLA Tower Moving Forward Despite Neighbor Opposition [Curbed LA]
· A Guide to the Near-Future of the Downtown LA Skyline [Curbed LA]

Alexan South Broadway

S Hill St & W 9th St, Los Angeles, CA 90015