February 2021. So the community has been reactivated now that IMT has cut down all the trees. This very visual action has pushed many people to ask questions about what is going on at the Sunkist Building. For many that question is a forgone conclusion. Over 5 years ago I received the first notice of intended development at this iconic property. I have lived for 20+ years about 200 yards away from the property so any development was sure to affect me and my family. We have so enjoyed having this virtual park so close and viewed it as a beautiful urban forest open space. So I set about informing myself and waging the fight against the development. I built this blogsite, hand delivered thousands of flyers, attended meetings and started to educate myself on the labyrinth of LA developments.
I learned that the owners of the property were entitled to make major changes. Their property was greatly underutilized for the zoning and space they had. I set about to working to improve the project and make an asset to the community and neighbors. I knew that any resolution would not be perfect but I also knew we could do better than the abomination that was originally proposed.
Somewhere in the battle I got hooked up with SOHA and became the CoChair of the Sunkist Building Expansion committee. This gave me a bigger seat at the table.
Initially IMT approached the approval process as a battle where they just wanted to bully neighbors into loving their development. This lasted for the first 1 or so. At some point they took a very sharp turn and started to collaborate on putting together a good project. SONC also was working to address the development. In a great show of teamwork intended to help the community SOHA and SONC joined forces. We put together lists of community concerns, lists of changes we wanted made. At one point a completely different site plan was developed and proposed by the committees. IMT considered these changes and commendably made extensive changes basically starting over on the design.
For those who are just catching up on the project now you must realize how different the final project is from the original concept. -Density of the project was reduced by about 20%, both in retail space and number of units. -the design was changed from a cold urban misfit to a design that will fit in nicely with our residential neighborhoods surrounding it. -The site plan was drastically changed so as to retain a grade level parking lot on Hazeltine which will have trees and will afford a view of the original building much as was originally intended instead of the 4+ story parking garage they proposed. -traffic patterns on site were drastically improved to help the flow on and off the property to help mitigate traffic impacts. -The front of the building on Riverside was set back an additional 4-10 feet further than originally planned. – Bigger and more trees were included in the improved plan. –the buildings were completed reoriented on the site in order to decrease the massive appearance of the buildings on Riverside drive. And so many more changes.
There has been much upset over the removal of all the trees. I too am very sad to see a single tree removed. But this is an example of how looking deep into the plan uncovers a different picture. Having lived here for so long I have watched the trees go thru their life cycle. Careful scrutiny as well as the expert opinions of Arborists revealed that the vast majority of the trees were not healthy and would be dying soon of their own accord. Bark beatles, drought, and other urban environmental conditions had been hard on these trees. We decided that retaining the trees was not a battle worth waging. Instead we worked to increase and improve the landscape and reforestation of the finished site.
I have 1000’s of pages of documentation and emails regarding this project. Our committee learned so much more about the planning process than we ever thought we wanted to know.
But I can honestly say I think we accomplished what we set out to do. The project is the best we could hope for. IMT ended up being a gracious partner in answering the concerns of the neighbors in the best way they could. Councilmember RYU and his staff were great in supporting the community. Our leverage over IMT and the development was limited so many of the changes were the result of the councilmember convincing IMT that they needed to cooperate in order to have a happy community and a good project.
This I believe was an example of the City of LA Planning process working. It ended up being a partnership between the owner of the Property, IMT, then Councilmember Ryus office, Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council and Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association as well as the community at large. The neighbors were heard thru numerous meetings, thru hearings at the city, thru email campaigns and many other modes. IMT was able to prove their case and make changes that worked for their project. The Council office worked to weigh all sides and be sure that good faith was being exercised by all.
I am proud to have been a part of this effort. I was privileged to work with Nancy Sagoian as co chair, Wendy Brogin and Marshall Long on the SOHA Sunkist Committee. While we did not always agree it was a very productive and enjoyable committee to work on.
Now it is up to us to hold IMT to their promises and the plans that were approved. We need to be sure that they continue to be a good neighbor during construction as well as once the buildings are completed.