Lantana Expansion Approved, Residents Divided
By Susan Reines
September 16 -- The City Council approved a major production studio expansion Tuesday night to mixed reaction from residents, who were divided over whether the hefty community benefits package the developers agreed to provide would compensate for extra traffic in the area.
The "development agreement" unanimously approved by the council requires developer Hines Lantana to pay over $2 million in traffic mitigation and donations to schools and City childcare in exchange for permission to add two new buildings to its Lantana Media Campus, which houses production studios for tenants such as Disney, Paramount, Warner Brothers and HBO.
Council members said they were generally satisfied with the final balance between traffic impacts in the residential areas near the City’s industrial corridor, where the expansion will take place, and community benefits.
"Nobody can offer guarantees, but I believe upon looking at the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) and also weighing the potential for negative impacts, when that's compared to the wide range of benefits for this project, for me it's not a hard decision to support this agreement," said Council member Ken Genser.
"We can't purchase [the land] at this time for parks. Something will be built there," said Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown. "So it's not that we're not aware of traffic problems."
McKeown and other council members suggested that, for neighbors, Lantana would be the best developer for the site because the project was environmentally friendly and traffic would be spread over the course of the day, since entertainment industry employees do not generally keep typical office hours.
Since the council denied Hines Lantana's request to expand its current facilities on Olympic Boulvevard two years ago, the developers reduced the size of one of the proposed buildings by about 15 percent and worked extensively with residents of the adjacent Pico Neighborhood, gathering input on the benefits package and paying for the neighbors to hire their own traffic consultant.
Most of the residents at the meeting seemed to agree with the council that the millions of dollars in community benefits would compensate for traffic impacts of the seemingly inevitable development of the property.
Marcia Zimmer, resident of one of the closest streets to Lantana, said she initially opposed the project but "came around."
"Basically, I figure they're going to build something there sometime and these people (Lantana) at least are going to give some traffic mitigation measures and a lot of other benefits to the community," Zimmer said.
Still, a small number of residents who spoke at Tuesday's meeting lobbied the council to deny the 194,000-square-foot expansion, saying the neighborhood could not handle the approximately 1,800 car trips the new buildings would generate each day.
These speakers came primarily from the Sunset Park Neighborhood, which is near but not adjacent to Lantana, and so will not receive the traffic mitigations and other benefits granted to the Pico Neighborhood.
But the council members held that they could not address traffic concerns because the "prime" lot between Olympic and Exposition Boulevards would inevitably be developed either by Lantana or another developer.
None of the council members expressed fundamental objections to the expansion; their discussion focused on the size of the community benefits package the developer should provide.
At the urgings of Senior Hines Vice President Doug Holte that "it's
in no one's best interest to have projects under a development agreement
that will probably never be built because it's too expensive," the
council accepted the benefits packaged offered by the developer even though
City staff and the Planning Commission both recommended
The final benefits package of over $2 million dollars includes traffic
mitigation measures such as installation of medians, a follow-up traffic
study a year after the larger of the two buildings opens, construction
of new sidewalks along Olympic Boulevard, a "first-source" hiring
program for neighborhood youth, improvements to the playground of the
nearby Edison School, $100,000 for arts education and $400,000 to the
Planning Director Suzanne Frick said staff recommended a much larger childcare contribution of $925,000 based on calculations by a consultant who determined how many employees would be hired per square foot of development and how much those employees, in turn, would use the City's childcare services.
Holte said Hines Lantana's smaller offer of $400,000 was double the contribution required in even the "most progressive" cities. Berkeley and the few other cities that require childcare contributions charge at most $1 per square foot, Holte said, and Hines Lantana offered double that figure "on good faith."
Irene Zivi of the city's Early Childhood Education Task Force and other representatives of the childcare community said they were happy with Hines Lantana's $400,000 offer.
Council member Michael Feinstein said he agreed with City staff and the Planning Commission that the developer should pay more to the childcare fund, but the other council members seemed concerned that a larger sum would prohibit the projects, which Holte said are already "unfeasible" in the current economy, from ever becoming a reality."Let's make this project happen at a level (Hines Lantana) can support so the funds get to childcare now," McKeown said, adding that he did not want Lantana's level of contribution to set a precedent for other developers.
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