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Case against 27-story Chinatown tower has ‘no merit,’ commissioners say

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A neighboring property owner is fighting the plans

A painting-like rendering of the ground floor of the project that shows pedestrians walking, street trees, and, in the background, the bottom of the new development.
A rendering of the Harmony project.
Courtesy of Townline and Forme Development

Plans for a 27-story apartment, office, and retail complex in Chinatown can forge ahead after the city’s planning commission on Thursday struck down an appeal brought by a neighboring landowner.

The commission voted unanimously to deny the appeal from Steve Riboli, whose family has a long history in the neighborhood, including as the founders of the San Antonio Winery.

Riboli is in the middle of his own redevelopment project to transform century-old buildings on the historic Capitol Milling Co. into restaurants and offices. In his appeal, he argued that plans for the 27-story project, named Harmony, would negatively impact his historic property.

But three commissioners said his appeal had “no merit.”

“If we couldn’t built adjacent to historic properties in LA, we wouldn’t have a Downtown,” Commissioner Samantha Millman said.

Riboli claimed the city had not fully studied how much Harmony would affect the Capitol Milling complex and that there had been “no effort to determine and commit to” measures that would protect his landmarked buildings.

But Ryan Leaderman, a representative for Harmony, said developers Townline and Forme Development had done a lot of work to protect the historic resources in the area, which include not only the Capitol Milling Company but also the Zanja Madre irrigation system that provided water to LA during its pueblo days. The Zanja cuts through the northeast portion of the Harmony site as well as through a portion of the Capitol Milling property, Leaderman said.

The Zanja is considered an archeological resource, and the precautions taken to protect those resources are much more “stringent” than those required for historic structures, Leaderman said. Since the Zanja also runs through the Capitol Milling site, he said the measures the developer had taken to protect the Zanja Madre also protect the Capitol Milling Company.

The appeal also called into question a designation the project received from city council in March that exempted it from the California Environmental Quality Act. Leaderman said that because that designation has already been given by the city council, there’s no way to appeal it now.

The Riboli family’s company, S&R Partners, is also working with Lincoln Property Company on a development that would curve around the Los Angeles State Historic Park, not far from the Harmony site.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the City Council would need to give approval on the commission’s decision. The commission’s decision is final.