Los Angeles Councilmember Jose Huizar has taken a stand against proposed plans to redevelop a privately owned apartment community located on 70 acres in his district. His opposition to the developer’s plans to replace apartment structures at Wyvernwood Garden Apartments in Boyle Heights with high-rise buildings has drawn praise from the Los Angeles Conservancy.
“Thank you, José, for coming out today in support of historic preservation, and in opposition to the demolition of Wyvernwood Garden Apartments,” said Linda Dishman, executive director of the LA Conservancy at a March 31 press conference. “We greatly appreciate the strong support and dedication of Councilmember Huizar and his staff, not to mention the many residents and other stakeholders who are fighting to save this unique, close-knit community.”
The Conservancy has spent several years trying to prevent the “senseless demolition of Wyvernwood,” Dishman said.
Wyvernwood, located near the Sears Tower in Boyle Heights, is comprised of 153 buildings built in 1939, and was the first large-scale garden apartment complex built in the city.
“It is listed in the California Register of Historic Resources and is eligible for listings in the National Register of Historic Places. Despite its long rich history, Wyvernwood remains highly relevant today through its innovative design,” Dishman said. “Generations have grown up, married, and started their own families here. Some people moved away but came back because they missed the unique sense of community.”
Last year, Wyvernwood became part of The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “This Place Matters” national campaign.
El Comité de la Esperanza (Committee of Hope), a group of Wyvernwood tenants, has spent well over two years lobbying Huizar to oppose the plans. They see his decision as a victory for their side.
Huizar’s backing is extremely important because the Los Angeles City Council will ultimately vote on the project and other council members tend to defer to the council member who represents the district, said Elena Popp, a lawyer for the Comité.
Citing a nearly four-fold expansion of units in one of the city’s densest neighborhoods as well as the dismantling of a community, Huizar said he opposes Fifteen Group’s $2 billion redevelopment plan. The developer’s plan would increase the number of housing units from the current 1,200 to over 4,000.
“In Boyle Heights, Wyvernwood is a community within a community with its own significant and rich history,” Huizar said. “I cannot support a project that would tear down this proud community one building at a time and replace it with a denser, lesser version of itself.”
Wyvernwood’s open-space concept was considered a model for other projects when first designed by Architects David J. Witner and Loyall F. Watson, and has become a sought-after design in recent years, according to the councilmember’s office.
Linda Kite, director of the Healthy Homes Collaborative calls Wyvernwood “a jewel” because it is one of the largest lead-free and historic housing developments.
The Los Angeles’ Planning Department is currently reviewing the draft Environmental Impact Review (EIR) for the project; the final EIR is expected to be completed later this year, according to Fifteen Group. A date for construction to begin has yet to be set.
“We were disappointed by Councilmember Huizar’s comments, though we are gratified that the Wyvernwood redevelopment project has earned strong support from many other community leaders and residents. Fifteen Group is continuing to move forward with the plan,” Steven Fink, executive vice president of Fifteen Group told EGP in a written statement.
Fifteen Group’s plan has garnered support from community, civic, business and labor leaders because the new development will provide modern homes and 13,000 new jobs. It represents a $2 billion investment that provides significant benefits for the area, including new shopping areas, parks and open space, and transportation improvements, Fink said.
Last month, Fifteen Group announced the formation of the Boyle Heights Jobs Collaborative that includes partners such as Homeboy Industries; Jovenes Inc.; East Los Angeles Occupational Center; Los Angeles Youth Opportunity Movement; Los Angeles Conservation Corps; El Centro de Ayuda; Arbor Northeast Worksource Center; East Los Angeles Skills Center and PUENTE Learning Center.
Wyvernwood’s redevelopment would create 10,000 construction-related jobs, 13,000 jobs overall, during a 10-year period, according to the company. The Collaborative has placed a priority on hiring from the local community, including Wyvernwood residents and local at-risk youth.
Fifteen Group’s plans include replacing existing structures in five separate phases over 10 years to minimize impacts on local residents, and an arrangement to allow tenants in good standing to move into brand new units at the same cost of their current unit, according to Fink.
“This is not just a promise, it is a legally binding commitment to residents that will be formalized in Wyvernwood’s project development agreement. Ultimately, the commitments we make to residents in our Resident Retention Plan become official as part of the City of Los Angeles’ approval of the overall redevelopment plan,” he said.
Nonetheless, residents and supporters have voiced distrust in the agreement.
Fifteen Group says their plan is the result of more than 100 community meetings held since 2005. “The New Wyvernwood will bring enormous benefits to the community, including an investment in jobs for local residents, new homes, new affordable housing, a safer environment, new parks, better transportation and new places to shop. And those are just some of the benefits,” Fink said.