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LA River activists building opposition to huge riverfront apartment complex

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They argue it could set a bad precedent for future projects

The development would include 419 apartments and 64,000 square feet of commercial space.
Renderings courtesy of Rios Clementi Hale Studios

Community groups advocating for restoration of the LA River aren’t happy about a proposed development that would put more than 400 apartments alongside 18 acres of public green space overlooking the river.

Earlier this month, Friends of the Los Angeles River and arts organization Clockshop announced plans for a coalition opposing the project.

A letter the two groups sent to the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council says the mixed use complex, which would rise at 2750 West Casitas Avenue, could “substantially impact surrounding residential communities, neighboring state park projects, and long-established river restoration efforts.”

FOLAR director Marissa Christiansen tells Curbed that she expects development around the river to “reach fever pitch in the years to come,” given the amount of investment now pouring into river revitalization projects.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is fleshing out plans for ecosystem restoration along 11 miles of the river—including the area around the Casitas Avenue development. Plans are also in the works for a 41-acre riverfront park in Cypress Park, new bike paths, and bridges crossing the river.

Given this flurry of activity, Christiansen says it’s important that early projects set a good example for other developers to follow. She describes the Casitas project as “almost a nonstarter.”

That’s mainly because of its proposed location. It would be constructed right next to the 2 freeway, exposing residents to potentially harmful health effects. Christiansen also argues it’s too close to the river’s historic floodplain.

Though the project site does not lie within a Federal Emergency Management Agency Flood Zone, Christiansen says that plans in the works to terrace the embankments of the river channel could put the property at risk in the event of severe storms—and that the project’s existence could in turn jeopardize those plans.

Rendering of bicyclists in front of Casitas project

Clockshop founder Julia Meltzer says she’s worried the development could deter people from accessing the public land alongside it. Purchased by the state in 2003, the space is known as the Bowtie Parcel. For the past three years, Clockshop has partnered with the state to offer cultural programming at the site in advance of it eventually becoming a more formal park space.

“This project stakes a claim to the entrance of public land,” says Meltzer. “The city and developers need to be aware there are people who want to protect it.”

The proposed development would include 419 apartments and 64,000 square feet of commercial space. Developer 2800 Casitas LLC, tied to New York-based Pan Am Equities, plans to set aside 35 housing units for lower-income tenants.

Christiansen says that won’t be enough to counteract the “downward pressure of gentrification” in the area.

FOLAR released a guide to riverfront development last year that includes criteria for the types of projects the organization would consider “appropriate and responsible.” The first item is “social equity and inclusion,” with an emphasis on affordability and compatibility with surrounding communities.

But Christiansen says more affordable housing will only help so much in the case of the Casitas Avenue project. “It’s still in the floodplain,” she says.