On April 24, 2012, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council held a community meeting to review the Frost Chaddock development projects at Sunset Junction and the Bates Motel site.
Afterwards, I sent the following letter to the council board, the City EIR Coordinator Srimal Hewawitharana, City Council candidates Josh Post and Mitch O'Farrell, and staff at Council member Garcetti's office urging a different approach to the whole area.
An excerpt of the SLNC action and a report on the community reaction can be found here.
Here is the full text of the letter:
Dear SLNC Board Member & Environmental Review Coordinator Hewawitharana,
Re: Frost Chaddock sites at Sunset Junction (ENV-2011-3299-EIR). I would like to resubmit to you the plan studies I prepared March 4, 2012 along with my further comments into the public record.
We live in an urban environment that is only destined to grow. My goal is to get the best urban design we possibly can for the sites and the surrounding/adjacent neighborhood. There is going to be much opposition to these projects. We can choose to fight them and stall them, maybe even long enough for the developer to throw in the towel and sell, but eventually something will be built. In my own experience, I believe the community usually ends up with a much worse situation on their hands due to the economic pressures that the developer will face from a long, drawn-out battle. I also believe that the detriment these projects pose is due more to the lack of urban planning of these sites , especially given the City plans to create a transit plaza at Sunset/Manzanita/Santa Monica Blvd.
My comments are mainly focused with regard to sites 1 & 2, which I think are most impactful to the community of Sunset Junction. The property lines of thes sites are determined by the combination of the orthogonal street grid and the curve of Santa Monica Blvd. (SM Blvd), which reflects the old layout of the street car line. The City has proposed to eventually vacate SM Blvd and reconfigure Manzanita Street to allow for a right angle connection to Sunset Blvd. to better allow for bus traffic turning from Sunset to SM Blvd/Manzanita.
The City has proposed to review the 3 development sites under one EIR, which makes sense, considering their proximity and configuration. But I urge you to push the City to include the proposal of the transit plaza at the future vacation of SM Blvd in the process as I think that the quality of urban planning for the transit plaza will suffer greatly if the plaza itself is left to be defined solely by the street grid. Los Angeles is too defined by the car culture as it stands. One of the purposes of the Community Plan is to foster pedestrian foot traffic and quality public space. A plaza defined by the curve of SM Blvd will be a wind-swept, mostly vacant, non-space, not unlike the transit plaza at SM Blvd and Vermont. The convex curve of SM Blvd will not create positive public space, but a space that bleeds out in both directions. The curve of the buildings will not create a 'defensible' space suitable for the comfortable enjoyment of the community. It will be a space defined mostly by streets, mostly the very busy Sunset Blvd. The space will also be defined by new, taller buildings that do not reflect the existing, unique, urban character of public spaces created at Sunset Junction, which is the commercial heart of Silver Lake.
I ask you all to take a long walk along Sunset Blvd. from Bates Ave. to Maltman Ave. What you will notice, if you look beyond the style of buildings, is a very unique urban space in Los Angeles. In my opinion, it is the 'S' curve of the street from Sanborn Ave. to Maltman Ave., combined with the low scale nature of the existing buildings and the subsequent views provided to the hillside community, that creates what we all know and love about Sunset Junction. The 'S' curve of the street creates a series of 'outdoor rooms' perceived in both directions as one travels by car or on foot along Sunset. One doesn't have an infinite view down the street on these blocks as one does on most straight commercial streets in Los Angeles. Instead, your view is fore-shortened because the curve of the street creates a limit to the sense of the space. It is the limit to the space that creates a sense of space. It's not the architectural design style of the buildings. The low scale nature of the buildings allows you to see the neighboring hillside residences, churches, streets, etc. in all directions, as well as important Los Angeles landmarks such as the Hollywood sign, and Griffith Observatory. These views help create and define the sense of the Silver Lake neighborhood character.
Unfortunately the Community Plan defines a much taller urban, commercial street. Very much like what one would find in Old Town Pasadena. Lot-line commercial - to 4-6 stories - with no views above to the surrounding neighborhood. I think that the view to the north and south to the neighborhood and the distant mountains beyond is a critical feature in the quality of the Silver Lake neighborhood character. It's what separates Silver Lake from other Los Angeles neighborhoods. It's a little village along those curving blocks of Sunset Blvd. The view and the curve of the street are what allow us to want to spend time on what can otherwise be a major thoroughfare. Without those elements Sunset Blvd. is more of a freeway than a neighborhood street. Just spend time at any one of the outdoor cafes and listen to the street traffic noise, which only worsens as you head west to the proposed developments.
As far as the Community Plan is concerned, I think the density and height at sites 2 & 3 are appropriate to an ever-growing city. Site 2 will not shade anything but Sunset Blvd., nor significantly bloc any important public views. The section of Sunset between these two sites is geographically depressed, the street is long and straight, and taller denser development is more warranted.
Site 1, on the other hand, slams up against the most important, unique commercial development in Silver Lake - Sunset Junction. If left to be developed in its current footprint, it will create a glaring clash in scale between the existing and the new. While it may conform to the guidelines of the Community Plan, it ignores the unique public/private urban space precedent created at Sunset Junction. The buildings at Sunset Junction step along the street, they are not lot-line facades along the curve of Sunset Blvd. They also incorporate a small outdoor courtyard and passageway. This creates a more pedestrian-friendly atmosphere than what the rest of the blocks provide. This is not what is encouraged by the Community Plan, but is unique to the existing neighborhood character.
If we allow the City to proceed with their transit plaza planning and the developer to proceed with the mixed-use projects without looking at how we might improve the existing street grid and urban design, we have lost a huge urban design opportunity. I am attaching some concept plans I created that outline ways that I feel - through a public/private partnership - we could achieve a much better urban plaza, less impactful new development shifted further to the west, and the preservation and continuation of existing urban planning strategies unique to Sunset Junction/Silver Lake.
I regret that I cannot attend the meeting as I was hoping to present these ideas during public comment in the hope of rousing some support for a more positive approach to defining our neighborhood.
Banjo AD Inc.