Final drawing of the proposed development on Avenue 64 near York Boulevard, as approved by L.A. City Planning.

Garvanza development is a go, despite community opposition

2022 April Business More News Real Estate

By Bill Hendrickson

[Editor’s note: This article was updated on May 2 to include additional comment from the office of Councilmember Kevin de León.]

A coalition of individuals and organizations in Highland Park has failed in its effort to block the development of an imposing apartment building at the entrance to the neighborhood’s historic Garvanza district.

The defeat came on Thursday when the City Planning Commissioners voted 8-0 to reject the coalition’s appeal of an earlier decision by the city to approve the development, to be built near the intersection of York Boulevard and Avenue 64.

This is a drawing of the approved design of the building viewed from East Garvanza Avenue.

In general, the coalition argued that the development, at some 54,000 square-feet, is vastly out of scale with the neighborhood and fails to meaningfully address the area’s need for affordable housing. 

Both of those points are true, but according to the commissioners, they are not disqualifying.

For example, the coalition said that under current rules, the project is wrongly designated as “transit oriented,” a label that that lets developments near public transportation be much bigger than otherwise allowed. The planning commissioners said the building met the rules for transit-oriented status when the developer applied for the designation years ago and that any changes since then are irrelevant.

As a transit-oriented project, the Garvanza development will be three stories rather than two. It will have 33 units rather than 22, of which 30 will be market rate and three will be set aside for very low income tenants. The development will have 54 below-ground parking spaces.    

The commissioners did not dispute the puny allocation of affordable apartments in the building but said unaffordability is not their problem to solve. “Affordable housing is not our purview,” said Commissioner Jenna Hornstock, adding, “The project doesn’t have to be built for people who already live in the community.” Commissioner Helen Leung explained: “[We] don’t have the ability to demand more affordable units.”

No updated estimates were given at the hearing of how much the market-rate apartments in the development are expected to rent for, but last year, the developer gave the range as $3,500 to $5,100 a month.

The commissioners also shot down the coalition’s argument that the project should be stopped because it had been rejected by the Board of the Highland Park Overlay Zone (HPOZ), which sets the guidelines for historic preservation and land use in the area. The commissioners said that HPOZ determinations are advisory only, not decisive. 

Similarly, the commissioners rejected the coalition’s argument that the project did not meet technical requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

There were some two dozen speakers at the hearing.

Emma Howard, director of planning for Councilmember Kevin de León, spoke favorably of the project, saying that the developer had incorporated many design improvements that de León’s office had asked for, among them, better outdoor lighting and better landscaping.

De León’s spokesperson, Pete Brown, clarified on May 2 that De León was supportive of the appeal to block the project but felt it couldn’t succeed and so worked hard at getting the developer to improve its plans. 

Duncan Gregory, board president of the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, objected to the project because of its dearth of affordable housing and its failure to gain the endorsement of the HPOZ. Gregory also said the project would increase traffic in the neighborhood and that the developer, Gelena Skya-Wasserman of Skya Highland Park Partners II had a history of evicting rather than respecting Highland Park residents. Gregory was referring to events in 2016, when Skya Ventures bought the 60-unit Marmion Royal Apartments in Highland Park and subsequently forced out dozens of tenants, many of them working-class Latino families.

Of 27 remaining speakers at the meeting, 25 were opposed, mostly for the reasons cited by Gregory.

Two people spoke in favor of the development, including Brad Chambers, the owner of property adjacent to the lot where the Garvanza development will be built. Chambers had originally opposed the project and was one of the individuals on whose behalf the appeal was filed. He said he is now in support of the project due to design improvements made by the developer.

Many people in Highland Park have fought hard to stop the Garvanza development, but the city’s pro-development policies have once again carried the day.

Bill Hendrickson
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.

14 thoughts on “Garvanza development is a go, despite community opposition

  1. Shocking that De Leon is all for it!!! Go figure he would approve something that most in the community are against. BRT in Eagle Rock. 5000.00 dollar a month rental in HP. Go figure on this guy loyalty to his constituency.

  2. Every new residential development is an opportunity to create more low income housing which is sorely needed in NELA. It is unfortunate that the Commissioners don’t have the political will to request that the developers reconsider to increase the number of “low income” units, especially since the Commission approved increased height and massing according to previous TOC requirements. It is this kind of uninspired housing policy that leads more individuals and families to fall into homelessness in our communities.

  3. De Leon. What a joke.
    Isn’t there a gas station n Popeyes right there now.? Plus apt bldg? Or is this the
    other side? Doesn’t matter bc all round there are families, small business historic homes. De Leon does not live here. Spending time in he’s tiny homes don’t count. We remove De Leon the issue is gone. All of his votes 2 tear down OUR towns are not voted by us. And this developer all ready he doesn’t care about the ppl. REMOVE DE LEON N CITY COUNCIL

  4. Follow the money !! Campaign contributions? Remember this at election time. Make your vote count

    1. Why do we vote for these jerks (I’m watching my mouth) in our district?! This guy’s doing even more damage than the last one who was thrown into jail.

      1. Joey Weezer was a HORRIBLE councilman…. but he’s not in jail.

        1. Aww. Joey. Correct term is..
          NOT IN JAIL YET……
          Mayb he can be bunk buddies with De Leon.

  5. Ms. Damien. You have De Leon’s ear. You stood with him at the tiny homes ribbon cutting. Tell him to reconsider and back off on his two sided approaches to development and progress.

  6. DeLeon strikes AGAIN! Me thinks something is rotten in Denmark. It appears that he couldn’t care less for the people he represents in Highland Park or Eagle Rock. Our road diet finally hit the evening news tonight! A bit late I’d say. Running for Mayor is far more important to DeLeon than listening to reason or common sense.

  7. I guess the job of the century is to be a councilman and a developer. How horrible these people are. The worst. Thanks for selling everyone down the river. You guys are awful.

  8. Actually, De Leon’s representative Emma Howard told the Commission that the Coalition Appeal Point on the TOC was correct and that the TOC appeal should be granted. The City Planning Commission apparently does not read the documents. They instead rely on whatever the planning staff says. Staff said it qualified when it was filed so that’s what they accepted. However, it was clear both in the Coalition’s appeal and in the presentation by Attorney Amy Minteer, the project never qualified for the TOC. It did not qualify in 2019 when the TOC application was filed and it didn’t qualify in 2020 when the City approved it for TOC incentives.

  9. What exactly is the address of these new homes. If it didn’t pass 3 diff times how’d it pass now? Kick backs?

    1. Good point. Why, undead? Can you even imagine how horrible the rest of LA will be if DeLeon were to be mayor?!

  10. Good point. Why, indeed? Can you even imagine how horrible the rest of LA will be if DeLeon were to be mayor?!

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