Los Angeles Business Journal

Westwood Takes Constructive Approach to Change

SPECIAL REPORT: Real Estate Quarterly By Bethany Firnhaber Monday, January 27, 2014

Westwood Village residents and business groups, particularly those who remember its glory days, have a lot of pride in their neighborhood. But that pride, however well intentioned, has largely manifested itself as an aversion to development – and change in general.

The resistance might have hit its peak more than a decade ago in a battle over Alan Casden’s Palazzo Westwood on Glendon Avenue. The bitter fight over the apartment and retail project, which at five stories was larger than zoning allowed, cost the developer about five years and $22 million. Though he persisted and completed construction in 2008, he still contends he should have been allowed to do more.

“There was no reason not to go a little higher; I was next door to a 22-story office building. All they did was cut off their nose to spite their face,” Casden said. “I saved Westwood Village. Without my project, there wouldn’t be anybody living there and shopping in those stores.”

The clash over the project, along with smaller ones that played out over the years, took a toll on both sides. Some in the business community blame the neighborhood’s refusal to embrace change as the reason the village has languished. Others, like David Friedman, whose family-run Sarah Leonard Fine Jewelers has been around almost as long as the village itself, said the limits restrained runaway development.

His father, Leonard Friedman, was among those who advocated for a ’70s-era ordinance limiting building heights to 40 feet or less, the one at the heart of the battle with Casden.

“A lot of people believe that had that ordinance not been passed, Westwood would have become another Century City,” David Friedman said. “I’m very proud of my dad for helping get that through the City Council.”

Many developers have been stymied in their efforts to get projects off the ground, whether through height restrictions, lobbying or preservation efforts, or court cases; the village, roughly 52 acres, has seen the Los Angeles City Council name 46 buildings “locally significant historic resources,” among the highest concentrations in the city, a designation that protects them from being demolished or significantly altered.

Now, though, a more conciliatory tone seems to have taken over in Westwood. With at least 10 projects valued at about $300 million either under way or about to begin construction, there is talk of that vitality returning.

Councilman Paul Koretz, whose district includes Westwood Village, said he’s seen community members become more open to development in the last couple of years.

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