Developer vs. the Safety of Kids: Fairfax Area Parents Upset

DEEGAN ON LA-A special interest group composed of parents who are speaking up for their kids is emerging as a loud voice in a Fairfax area community dispute with developer Ira Smedra.

The community has begun to mobilize against his planned 26-floor apartment tower (seven floors of above ground parking topped by 19 floors of apartments) on the site currently occupied by KMart, at Third and Fairfax across the street from the Farmers Market and The Grove. The demolition and construction activity will take place mere feet from the K-5 students at Hancock Park Elementary School. 

Ira Smedra has big plans for making over his run-down Town+Country shopping center by erecting a 275 feet tall, 381-apartment tower -- the kind you see on Wilshire Boulevard or downtown, but not yet in the low-slung neighborhood at Third and Fairfax. He’s drawn the attention of irate neighbors, although voices of support are also weighing into this dispute. 

Henry van Moyland of Miracle Mile Forward told CityWatch,"This is exactly the kind of development we should be seeing in the center of our neighborhood. The KMart was a dump. Instead we get a revitalized shopping center and a mass of new residential. It's walkable, complements the Grove and the Farmers’ Market, and many of the new retail tenants are likely to be local businesses. Not a single resident is displaced by this. I think this is great." 

While the burgeoning dispute may eventually feature more NIMBYs and YIMBYs (no or yes in my backyard), the newest voice belongs to the parents of the K to 5 kids who attend Hancock Park Elementary, at 408 S. Fairfax Ave, a school that opened in 1937. Only a ten-foot wide alley will separate them from a massive construction project; apparently, that very alley will be busy all day as a dirt hauling route. 

The flash point, once the shock of the sheer height of the project was absorbed, and the resulting traffic impacts were visualized, has become an environmental issue, with a difference of opinion on the need for an Environmental Impact Report. The developer says one is not necessary, while opponents are demanding that one be conducted. 

“We recently met with the developers and Ira Smedra, President of the ARBA Group, and learned that they contend that the development of their 20 plus story high-rise which they plan to build thirty feet from our school would not have a significant environmental impact on our school and the community,” Shanon Trygstad, President of the Friends of Hancock Park Elementary School, told CityWatch

“This self–serving assumption is the basis for their contention that they do not need to have an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) prepared, which would provide the detailed information needed to evaluate the actual effect that their proposed project will have on our school and its environment,” she continued. 

Getting very specific, Trygstad added, “We believe that it is critical that an EIR be prepared. Significantly, the area where the developers want to build includes:

  • a methane buffer zone
  • two capped oil wells
  • asbestos (the Kmart building)
  • lead paint (the Kmart building)
  • many other toxic materials that our children will be exposed to during demolition
  • excessive noise
  • vibration
  • pollution from the construction site and the work trucks
  • heavy equipment
  • drills and hammers
  • pollutants
  • dust
  • other materials that will interfere with their education, social interactions and physical activity of our very young K-4 students. 

It's not just the construction that concerns Shanon Trygstad. Other issues, if the project is completed, include:

  • “street congestion, especially during morning drop-off and pick up, which coincides with people leaving from and returning to their nearby homes.
  • school boundaries may be redistricted, due to the addition of families in the tower. 

“For these reasons, we believe an EIR and proper traffic studies should be required, before the proposed construction is even considered,” concluded Trygstad. 

A LAUSD spokesperson told CityWatch,“LA Unified is aware of the proposed development adjacent to Hancock Park Elementary School and will provide comments once the environmental documents are made available by the City. Providing a safe learning environment for our students remains a top priority.” 

There are many community concerns, voiced first at a recent Mid City West Community Council land use committee meeting where the project was revealed to a shocked audience that had no warning to expect a twenty-six-story building. The 100% negative blowback at that occasion was centered on height and traffic impacts. It’s not only the community, but the local politico who will have to become involved in the dispute in his district. David Ryu (CD4) may eventually be asked by the community to support requiring an Environmental Impact Report. A spokesperson for Ryu told CityWatch, "Councilmember Ryu has concerns with the project in its current iteration, specifically the height and potential traffic impacts." 

In a sign of increased concern, the Mid City West Community Council has also involved its Transportation committee, making it the second MCW committee (along with the Planning and Land Use committee) to hold public meetings where stakeholder comments can be added to the public record on the project. MCW’s Transportation, Parking and Sreetscape committee co-chair Taylor Nichols told CityWatch,“They came to our meeting last month and we spent over an hour hearing their proposal and asking questions. We started to give them some feedback about streetscape and infrastructure, but we have not passed a motion yet. We are still in the look and learn and inform phase.”  

Ira Smedra did not respond to requests from CityWatchfor comment, although his recently engaged public relations firm did provide this statement from Tom Warren, Executive Managing Director for the Holland Partner Group: “We are excited to have the opportunity to work with the owners of the property to revitalize this neighborhood center. Over the past couple of weeks, it has become clear that there are concerns about the development as proposed. We are committed to working with the community through a collaborative and transparent process to explore ways to address the concerns we have been hearing so we can deliver a project that will provide much needed housing and benefit the neighborhood for generations to come. 

“We want to reiterate our commitment to this dialogue and want our neighbors at the school and throughout the community to understand that we see this as the beginning of a long relationship for Holland. In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue talking to community members to hear their concerns and will work to address them head-on.”

 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.