After a summer hiatus, the controversial Village Center Westwood project moved forward again last week when developer Ira Smedra submitted a revised Environmental Impact Report to the city of Los Angeles.
Submitted Oct. 14 to the city Planning Department, the revised draft responds to letters and comments regarding the project's original EIR.
"The report contains no major changes to the project," Smedra, president of the Arba Group, said last week. "It addresses traffic and other smaller concerns."
However, a Smedra spokeswoman said later that the developer had acceded to demands by City Councilman Michael Feuer to set aside land for a 12,500-square-foot public library in the project.
Smedra is seeking approval for a 437,000-square-foot retail center on 5.2 acres bounded by Weyburn, Glendon and Tiverton avenues.
It would include a 3,400-seat cinema complex reduced from 4,700 seats last April in response to complaints from neighbors.
Feuer, who represents Westwood, said he would review the document to ensure his concerns about traffic and other issues had been met.
The Planning Department will now review the document and make its recommendations to the Planning Commission. City planner Charlie Rausch said he could not predict when the project would be set for a hearing before the commission.
Smedra spokeswoman Maureen Ladley said an announcement of an operator for the project's theater is expected soon. She also said talks have been underway with officials from Ralph's Grocery Co. and a drug store chain, but no deals had been struck.
The project has encountered strong opposition over its scale and possible effects on traffic from community groups.
Even scaled down, the project would still deviate from 1989's Westwood Village Specific Plan, according to Sandy Brown, co-president of the Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Association.
"It's still way too big for the area," Brown said.
Among other things, Brown's group objects to the closure of Glendon Avenue between Kinross and Weyburn avenues to create a pedestrian mall. The developer contends that Glendon is not a major traffic street.
Smedra also said financing is in place for the proposed $110 million complex, although he declined to offer details.
Village Center Westwood includes features found at some of the most successful retail developments, such as Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade and Pasadena's Old Town.
Shoppers would stroll from shop to shop in the facility, which will have an outdoor courtyard at its center. The yard would have umbrella-shaded tables and palm and other trees. This pedestrian area would connect with the rest of Westwood Village via a passage to Westwood Boulevard.
This plaza-style retail environment is in contrast to the enclosed shopping environments so popular in the 1970s and 1980s.
Smedra said he never even considered building an indoor mall at the site.
"Southern Californians love outdoor environments and Westwood has always had some beautiful streets for walking," Smedra said. "I wanted to have the courtyard as an outdoor gathering area for people."
Dori Pye, president of the Los Angeles Business Council, agreed that the open-air project would well suit the area.
"This project fits in with Westwood, which has always been like a village," she said. "An enclosed mall would not fit in with the architecture of this community."
The project is supported by many merchants in the area, but the Friends of Westwood residents' group maintains that it would bring too many outsiders to the community.
That issue aside, Councilman Feuer said he likes the project's character and how it integrates with its surroundings. He had disagreed with earlier designs where the shopping area was closed off to impede flow of shoppers to and from outside merchants.
"It has evolved positively to incorporate pedestrian elements that make it closely tied to other activity in the village," he said.
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