Thursday, the Los Angeles City Planning Commission denied the appeal by green space advocates trying to install a small park as part of the development at 500 S. Oxford Ave. Instead, developer Sang Hoon Chung, Fred & Jamison, LLC, will be permitted to pay fees in lieu of dedicating park space. The project is a new seven-story, 89-foot high, residential development containing 89 residential condominium units, at the southwest corner of 5th Street and Oxford Avenue in Koreatown.
“This was a perfect opportunity for the City to add green space in one of our most park-poor and population-dense neighborhoods — it is hard to imagine a more compelling case for land dedication. If land wasn’t required now, it doesn’t bode well for other underserved areas of the City,” said Greg Wittmann, a St. Andrews Square resident and member of the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council who filed a statement in support of the appeal, which was originally filed by the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust. Wittmann also attended the appeal hearing.
Wittmann said he sees this a good example of how city agencies could work together more collaboratively to support the city’s goals of increased housing and green space. According to the Recreation and Parks Board Report, park fees from the project would be $746,035.38. While that seems like a large amount, there are 22,678 residents within a 1/2 mile of this area, of whom 21,243 are “non-served” by park facilities. That’s 93% of area residents not served by parks. The developer has also proposed to pay additional funds for developing a new park at the Pio Pico Library, located 0.4 miles south of the project site.
“This property was large enough for a small pocket park. The Planning Department rejected the recommendation of Recreation and Parks for a maximum dedication of 60% of the site. But why didn’t anyone consider a smaller land dedication?”asked Wittmann.
In filing the appeal, the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, which led the campaign in 2016 to overhaul the City’s Quimby ordinance, which requires developers of large developments to dedicate land for parks, challenged the Planning Department to explain its rationale and urged it to consider in-lieu fees only as a last resort.
“While we did not win the appeal on this particular case, we made huge strides in shedding light on development decisions that are often made in the dark,” Tamika Butler, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust told the Buzz. “Today the Planning Commissioners heard from community voices that parks and housing are both essential for a vibrant and healthy Los Angeles, and there is a way forward to do both. We are encouraged by the Commissioners’ discussion of the need for both and better coordination between departments. We look forward to partnering with the City to make sure land dedication opportunities, especially in park-poor neighborhoods and communities of color, are prioritized and seized.”
The developer also has the support of City Council Member Herb Wesson’s office, according the appeal:
“While the applicant has the option to purchase land off-site to satisfy the provision of park amenities, given that vacant land in the highly-urbanized Koreatown area is difficult to find and would result in a [coast] to the owner of nearly five times that of the in- lieu fee which would deter the applicant from constructing the much-needed housing units in an area zoned and planned for such density.”
On October 23, 2015, Mayor Garcetti issued Executive Directive No. 13 which calls for the creation of 100,000 new housing units by 2021. The city is in the process of developing a new park at the Pio Pico Library, located 0.4 miles south of the project site. The applicant is working with Council District 10 to provide funding to the proposed park. In addition, the applicant has agreed to pay an in-lieu fee that would not consider the on-site credit for providing open space as part of the project thereby contributing to the creation of housing while investing in a current park project within proximity of the project site.
Recently residents of Koreatown have been speaking out for more parks in their neighborhood. Last month, a group of residents, Save Liberty Park, was successful in securing Historic Cultural Landmark designation for Beneficial Plaza and Liberty Park, which was targeted by the same developer for a mixed-use 36-story tower with 506 residential units and and 62,000 square feet of shops on the grassy open space. The space, known as Liberty Park, had been dedicated by the developer at the time as community park space.
The hearing, which widely covered in the Korean press, illustrates the division among residents trying to balance building much needed housing and much needed park space.