An overflow crowd of concerned citizens attended an informational meeting discussing a proposed 200-unit senior citizen housing complex at what is now a golf and tennis club in Studio City, Calif.
The community meeting scheduled by the Studio City Neighborhood Council attracted even more people than the meeting last year over concerns of a Harvard-Westlake School expansion that would encroach on the environment and hillside landscape of this community.
“When you threaten our green space, then people get mean about it,” says Mikki Henderson, who has lived in the area for nearly four decades and attended both community meetings. “Once we lose the environment, we can never replace it.”
The comments after the initial proposal for the Weddington Golf and Tennis Courts site bordered on the comical.
“The senior citizens will be driving right past our houses and through our neighborhoods and flying over the hill to Cedars-Sinai [Hospital] for their doctor’s appointments,” said one resident. “And they will cause even more congestion and accidents.”
“This plan is suspicious and is a plot that sounds like it could have been cooked up on this very studio lot,” said a man at the meeting held at the CBS Studios backlot where the likes of “CSI: NY” is taped.
The room filled up quickly with 350 people and another 50 stood outside and listened to the meeting via speakers. Many of the audience members had Save LA River Open Space (http://savelariveropenspace.org) T-shirts on and have organized for 15 years to try to designate the land a public park.
Studio City Neighborhood Council President John Walker said, “I know this is a very passionate issue and we asked that the public comment period be extended so that we can collect all of the public’s concerns. We have about 400 people here.”
He and some of the other council members were surprised that after hours of testimony, there were no public comments that supported the project. “We usually have someone come up and say they support the project, but this didn’t happen today, and I can’t remember a time when that has ever happened before over such a contentious topic,” Walker said.
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian asked that the public comment period be extended from 45 to 60 days and that extension was granted by City Planning Director Michael LoGrande.
Michael Murphy, representing the Weddington family, pointed out their 140-year history and involvement, including donating large portions of land for both North and South Weddington Parks, the North Hollywood Library and Post Office, the Studio City Fire Station and many other parcels.
“This is the last piece of property that the family owns, and they want to develop only a portion of it and for senior citizens to still live in this community,” said Murphy. “There is not a single senior citizen housing project in Studio City.”
He pointed out that the Weddingtons “care about the community” and the project is “not unreasonable and not excessive.”
Tom Stemnock, also representing the project, explained some of the major points of the proposal:
• The land of 16.1 acres along the Los Angeles River now has a nine-hole golf course, driving range, club house, 16 tennis courts and 92 parking spaces.
• The tennis courts will be taken out for 200 senior citizen condos.
• There will be six four-story buildings, about 45 feet high on 4 ½ acres of the land, about 35 percent of the total property.
• Parking will be underground and total 635 spaces.
• Entrance to the complex will be off Valleyheart Drive.
• According to the Draft Environmental Impact Report, the two years of construction will have some impact with noise and air quality issues during the hauling of earth from the site.
• Of the 430 mature trees in the area, only nine will be removed, but 38 more may have to be taken down depending on construction issues, and those will be replaced.
• No special status species of animals or plants are on the site.
• If there are birds nesting during construction, they will pull back on construction in that area for that period of time.
• No traffic impact will occur in the area during construction.
• Low Impact Development requirements will be followed.
• The golf course is a buffer to nearby homes.
• The height and density of the buildings are similar to those across the street on Whitsett.
Most of the citizens who spoke were in favor of keeping the golf and tennis courts and turning the land into a wildlife park and a water reclamation point along the mostly-concrete Los Angeles River.
Joshua Campbell expressed skepticism that the Weddington family wouldn’t later develop the entire property after they get permission to build the housing complex.
“This family once owned half of the San Fernando Valley and giving away this small portion seems to be not much of sacrifice,” Campbell said. “I think saying it is for senior housing is a ploy.”
Sue Peabody said the large amount of car spaces for the 200 senior citizens “seems disingenuous and smells a little fishy to me.”
Carrie O’Farrell said the traffic is dangerous already and this would make it even worse.
Reginald McDowell, a 20-year resident, said the tennis courts are a vital aspect of the community and are on par with those in Beverly Hills and other high-end areas, but are accessible to the public.
Dianne Handmaker, a real estate agent, said, “I represent the thousands of people who have played tennis there and worry about the future tennis players of our society and where they will play.”
Janet Loeb who has lived for 30 years in an area that will surely see more traffic said, “If the community does not want something this much then how can the zoning be changed?”
Patty Kirby, a board member of Save LA River Open Space, said she is concerned about the additional heat caused by the structures and the breeze from the hills that will be blocked by the tall buildings. “This will inevitably heat up this section of the Valley,” she said.
Julian Bull, headmaster of the nearby Campbell Hall private school, said he works with the tennis teams and has sought out alternative courts throughout Los Angeles both public and private.
“There is nowhere for these school teams to go to if these tennis courts are shut down,” Bull said. “It would be a shame.”
Sue Ellen Wagner, a 40-year local, is concerned about the pollution when the dirt is removed and the traffic. “I live in the Silver Triangle area and we are in gridlock much of the day already. We can’t accommodate these residences in our area.”
Sarah Boyd of the Hillside Federation, representing 44 homeowner groups said their group of 1,100 households oppose the development.
Laurie Cohn, a board member of savelariveropenspace.org, pointed out the enormous community opposition to the project, and how other projects proposed nearby like the Sportsmen’s Lodge revamping and the Harvard-Westlake parking lot expansion could also seriously impact the neighborhood.
Matthew Flynn, a resort planner who has lived two decades in Studio City, pointed out that the senior housing is an “irresponsible design”
Flynn said, “Why don’t they just say it’s going for blind nuns, it would be just as believable. The jewel of the Valley will become a gridlocked parking lot if this gets approved.”
Maxwell Hoss, a 26-year-old local said he hopes to bring up children who will play in the park at the site, and he never would plan to have his mom live there.
David Hernandez, a Valley Village resident, said “it is an impossibility to not have an impact on traffic” and he disputed the report claims. “All of us have valid concerns.”
Robin Weiss said that if the zoning was changed for this project, “it would open up a Pandora’s Box and no one would want to live in the area with the kind of density this would result in.”
Lewis Sanford has lived 19 years one block away from the site and is concerned about a potential increase in crime. “When the tennis courts close they will be gone forever,” Sanford said. “If the tennis courts get removed then the city planners should be removed too.”
Barry Johnson issued a sober warning. “Has anyone driven through Westwood lately? That is what we will be getting if this goes through.”
Beverly Wilkerson, a self-admitted senior citizen, says she has played tennis with people in their 70s and 80s on the tennis courts and she thinks the courts should remain. “And, I also have to admit that senior citizens don’t drive so well,” she quipped.
Many other people spoke of course, and the meeting lasted nearly two hours.
The meeting was one of the largest Neighborhood Council meetings ever held in Los Angeles among the 93 councils, and the overall council will discuss it and perhaps vote on whether they approve of the plan or not at their next regular Board Meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 10 at the CBS Studio backlot see: http://studiocitync.org/calendar/#/?i=1
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