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A 42-story, mixed-use building planned for the Miracle Mile was approved by the Mid City West Community Council earlier this month.
The project, proposed by developer Walter N. Marks Inc. for 5411 Wilshire Blvd., passed the MCWCC in a 19-9 vote on Aug. 11, though the council hinged its approval on a few conditions, including that the gym for the building’s residents would be set back 16 feet from the north side of the property and that some of the ground-floor outdoor open space should be open to the public regardless of whether they are patrons of the building’s businesses, among other recommendations.
Walter N. Marks III, the company’s president, said in an Aug. 26 interview that he was pleased to earn the MCWCC approval.
“We will continue to address these issues. There were setback issues, a few other things too, but in general, it was great to get their approval. It’s an important hurdle for us,” he said.
The building, which will be called the Mirabel, will next go before the Los Angeles Planning Commission. Since the property is zoned for such a project, the Planning Commission can give final approval, though any appeal would go to the Los Angeles City Council.
Mark Pampanin, spokesman for Councilman David Ryu, 4th District, said in an email that Ryu has not yet taken a position on the project, as “a lot of details can change before a project’s first hearing.”
“However, he is following the project closely and taking community input,” Pampanin said. “His two biggest sticking points are ensuring more affordable housing and a project that meets the goals laid out in his April 2019 letter to the Planning Department on the Wilshire Transit Neighborhood Plan. That includes true affordable and workforce housing, car-free mobility options and pedestrian improvements for a walkable, liveable and more vibrant Miracle Mile.”
The approximately 477,000-square-foot building will create up to 348 housing units, of which 38 will be affordable. Of the affordable units, 29 will be set aside for very low-income households, while nine will be reserved for moderate-income households.
In addition, approximately 15,000 square feet on the ground floor will be retail space, and the southern and eastern façades of the project site, an Art Deco structure known as the Sontag Building, will be saved and renovated before being incorporated into the final project. The other part of the site, which is currently occupied by the Staples store at 5407 Wilshire Blvd., will be demolished to make way for new construction designed by architect Richard Keating.
The project was originally anticipated to contain 371 units, of which 56 would be affordable. However, Marks said Los Angeles City Planning requested changes to the building’s parking podium, reducing it from three to two levels. Despite being able to add a limited number of additional underground parking spaces under the Sontag Building, there was not enough parking space for 371 units, forcing a reduction in the number of units, Marks said, and the affordable units were affected most.
“In losing the parking, we have to reduce the number of units. That was the relationship there … We just need to always maintain an adequate number of on-site parking [spaces],” Marks said.
The parking is expected to be a perk for residents of the luxury units, as will be the mechanical parking system that will be able to charge electrical vehicles each night. Residents will also be able to take Metro’s Purple Line subway, as the Purple Line Extension is expected to open a station at Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, which is two blocks from the project site, in 2023. The Mirabel is expected to be finished in 2024.
Despite the approval from the MCWCC, opponents have been vocal in their criticism of the project. In the MCWCC meeting, members of the public and multiple board members claimed the project did not provide enough affordable units, was too large for the neighborhood and did not adequately use the valuable space within walking distance of a subway station, as the wealthy residents of the building are less likely than the public at large to use public transit.
Barbara Gallen, a MCWCC board member, voted against the Mirabel and said the surrounding neighborhood is “overwhelmingly against” the project.
In an email, she highlighted several concerns about the project, including the building’s height, the impact on traffic and parking in the neighborhood, and her doubts that the tower’s residents would use public transportation.
“If and when the development team sell their cars and use transit exclusively, I’ll buy their sales pitch that Mirabel residents will do the same,” she said.
A group called the Miracle Mile Coalition has also started a change.org petition to halt the project, and their petition has gained more than 1,000 signatures as of Aug. 26. The group did not make a member or spokesperson available for an on-the-record interview, but in a statement and in their petition, it claims the project is strongly opposed by a “unanimous and resounding consensus among renters, homeowners, numerous landlords and businesses” in the area and would “destroy Miracle Mile.”
“We are the people who know what is best for our neighborhood, not developers who live nowhere nearby and who clearly have not done their due diligence if they really believe that a 42-story skyscraper with exorbitant rents will be even nominally filled up, and more pertinent, will in any way benefit the community. This development will in no way benefit this community,” the statement read.
The petition also alleged that the building is too large and heavy for what is beneath the street, which potentially could be faults, methane and tar. Marks said those matters will be studied during the environmental review for the project – the Mirabel is undergoing a Sustainable Communities Environmental Assessment – and they’ve already looked into potential issues regarding tar and methane.
“I don’t know where they get that idea. Yes, the buildings weigh a lot, and we’ve done methane tests and we know what tar is there,” Marks said.
However, not all Miracle Mile residents and stakeholders are opposed as the Miracle Mile Coalition claims, said Mehmet Berker, chair of the MCWCC Planning and Land Use Committee.
“There were public commenters in favor, and there were public commenters that were opposed,” Berker said in an Aug. 25 interview.
In the MCWCC meeting, some members of the public and board members praised the project for the addition of housing that would not destroy existing housing – and displace the current residents – in the process. They also lauded the building’s design, which they described as a good fit for Wilshire Boulevard.
Berker, who voted in favor of the Mirabel’s approval, noted that while some board members thought the project could be better – providing more affordable housing units, for example – “there were enough people who said [the project] was enough unalloyed good because of the housing, or enough of a good to outweigh the issues that came with it.”
Marks said he hopes the Mirabel will spark other nearby property owners to improve their buildings before the subway opens.
“We hope our invested dollars on the ground level, from person to person activity, will inspire other buildings, whether they’re renovated or torn down, to reinvest in better façades and upgrades and things like that. There are vacancies and they need new tenants. The train is going to open up, and it’s going to be a big change,” Marks said.
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