Thursday, February 6, 2003
Court Reinstates City’s Approval of West Los Angeles Apartment Complex Rejected by Planning Commission
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A City Council decision to approve construction of an apartment complex in West Los Angeles despite the Planning Commission’s rejection of the project was reinstated yesterday by this district’s Court of Appeal.
The 309-unit residential complex planned for Westlawn Avenue can be constructed in an industrial park even if the move amounts to spot zoning as long as the council acted reasonably, Presiding Justice Dennis Perluss said in an unpublished opinion for Div. Seven.
Perluss noted the area where the AvalonBay Communities, Inc. project is to be built was zoned light industrial but is in transition to mixed use and residential, and is tucked between a single-family residential neighborhood a block to the east and Playa Vista, which is to include nearly 10,000 residential units on completion, to the west.
He rejected the assertion of petitioner Isabel Pacific Properties II, LLC that amendments to the zoning ordinance that permitted construction of the project violated the area’s general plan, which after amendment designated the area “neighborhood commercial.” Isabel Pacific argued that the zoning ordinance rendered the area residential.
“Plaintiffs contend the zoning ordinance is simply a ploy to allow residential development in an area under the guise of a commercial zoning designation,” Perluss said in a footnote. “However, the motives of the parties do not change our analysis. Although AvalonBay may well have thought it would be easier to obtain approval for C2 zoning than for a purely residential zoning designation, apartment buildings are permitted in neighborhood commercial areas as a matter of right.”
Perluss also said the City Council’s approval of the Environmental Impact Report was based on sufficient evidence, even if another body might have used the same facts to rule the other way.
The project was approved in an atmosphere of increasing concern over a shortage of housing in Los Angeles.
Avalon Bay requested the general plan amendment for the neighborhood commercial designation to permit apartment housing. The EIR was prepared and concluded there would be no significant environmental impact. The report also concluded that the inconsistency in land use designations could be mitigated by an amendment,to the general plan and zoning ordinance, height district plan and site plan approval.
The Planning Department held a public hearing. The city planning director concluded the project would threaten the viability of industrial uses in the area, and on Nov. 28, 2000 his department recommended disapproval.
The conclusion was backed up by a vote of the city Planning Commission, and after an additional hearing the City Council’s planning committee agreed.
But Councilman Mike Hernadez prepared a minority report, finding that the site had remained vacant and was no longer suitable for industrial use, and recommending certification of the EIR and approval of the project.
On May 29, 2001, the council adopted Hernandez’s report and adopted the EIR. Several weeks later it adopted findings supporting the zoning ordinance and the plan amendment, which changed the project area designation to “neighborhood commercial.”
On Aug. 10, 2001, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dzintra Janavs found that the zoning change was inconsistent with the general plan and constituted impermissible spot zoning, that the general plan had become internally inconsistent, and that the EIR conclusion that the project was compatible with the surrounding uses was not supported by substantial evidence.
She was wrong, Perluss said.
“We must find substantial evidence exists where ‘a fair argument can be made’ to support the Council’s findings, even if the weight of the evidence is to the contrary,” Perluss said.
The case is Isabel Pacific Properties II, LLC v. City Council of the City of Los Angeles, AvalonBay Communities, Inc., RPI, B157423.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company