The proposal to construct an imposing, three-story, apartment building at Avenue 64 and Garvanza Street hit a wall of community opposition this week.
On Monday, 22 community members spoke out against the proposed development at a meeting of the Land Use Committee of the Highland Park Neighborhood Council. On Tuesday, 30 stakeholders objected to the proposal at a meeting of the Highland Park-Garvanza Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ), which monitors historic preservation and land-use in the area.
The main objection raised at the Land Use Committee meeting is that the development — with 33 large, mostly market rate apartments — is the opposite of the affordable housing that Highland Park so desperately needs.
The developer, Gelena Skya-Wasserman of Skya Ventures, did not really have an answer to that objection.
When pressed, Skya-Wasserman suggested that apartments in the development would potentially rent at a “low $3 per square foot.” With most of the proposed units ranging in size from 1,155 square feet to 1,700 square feet, that comes to $3,500 a month to $5,100 a month.
“Who will live there who lives in Highland Park?,” asked Gemma Marquez, a Highland Park resident. Skya-Wasserman had no comment.
But it’s an important question. When the development was originally proposed back in June, 2020, some people speculated that the development’s three- to five-bedroom apartments would be marketed for “co-living,” in which generally young adults band together to rent multi-bedroom apartments while pursuing their careers and creative projects.
That prospect didn’t get a warm reception in Highland Park. On Monday, Skya-Wasserman attempted to rebrand the proposed development. “Co-living is dead” she announced, adding that the development’s large, multi-bedroom apartments would be ideal for “extended families.” Highland Park certainly has a number of crowded, multi-generational households, but suffice it to say that no one at Land Use committee meeting seemed persuaded that those families are who Skya-Wasserman had in mind.
Then again, trust is an issue in Highland Park when it comes to Skya Ventures. In 2016, Skya Ventures purchased the 60-unit Marmion Royal Apartments and subsequently forced out most of the tenants, mainly working-class Latino/a families as well as several Section 8 tenants.
The people who attended the Land Use Committee meeting also pointed out that a large new apartment complex would stress the area’s already stressed infrastructure. They criticized the proposed building as too large and misshapen, and were largely silent on upgrades that Skya Ventures had made to the exterior of the building. Originally, the building was depicted as a concrete monolith. In drawings presented on Monday evening, the façade of the building was shown with balconies and “real brick” and decorative wood facing.
On Tuesday evening, at the meeting of the HPOZ, attendees objected to the size, scale, look and feel of the building. Emma Howard, a senior planner for City Councilmember Kevin de Leon, said that the councilmember has “deep concerns” about the proposed development.
The public comment at the HPOZ meeting ran for more than two hours. As a result, the Board of the HPOZ did not have time to discuss and deliberate on the proposed development and will do so at the next meeting on Feb. 23. At that meeting, the Board will make a determination as to whether the proposal conforms to the guidelines established in the HPOZ.
To be notified of the Feb. 23 meeting, including instructions for participating via Zoom, email Katie.Knudson@lacity.org.
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Bill Hendrickson, MBA, publisher of the Boulevard Sentinel, has extensive small business management, marketing and sales experience in corporate finance and real estate development and plays a not terrible game of golf.