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Residents Disillusioned with the Planning Process in Los Angeles' Chinatown

Sharon McNary reports on a proposed development in the Chinatown neighborhood of Los Angeles that predates, and could thus avoid, the guidelines put forward by one of the most progressive plans in the city—the Cornfield Arroyo Specific Plan.
February 13, 2015, 9am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Sharon McNary reports on the project proposal for "College Station" mixed-use development slated for five acres of vacant land just east of the Chinatown station of the Gold Line light rail line connecting Union Station with Pasadena. College Station, would include two towers with up to 685 apartments, ground-level retail and restaurants, rooftop pools, and a pedestrian plaza. "They would become the tallest buildings in Chinatown," according to McNary.

The project's controversy, however, comes from its out of scale reference to the 2013 Cornfield Arroyo Specific Plan, which is often referred to by planners as an example of a new era in planning, mostly due to its lack of parking requirements.

"If built according to the Cornfields plan, the College Station parcel would be mostly commercial, retail and light industrial, with at most 200 homes. About 20 of the homes would need to be affordable to residents of the area..." Of the 685 units proposed by the developer, 100 would be for senior housing.

So why the discrepancy between plan and project? According to the McNary, the developer "will not be held to the Cornfields plan standards…because the company filed its application and a zone change request for the College Station project in 2012, a year before the Cornfields plan was approved."

As described by McNary, the controversy comes back to that problem of how developments can often catch neighborhoods by surprise, even when a plan guiding the vision of the neighborhood is already in place. "When it was adopted in 2013, a Los Angeles Times editorial called it a 'smart development' plan that should become a model for the city, one that would give residents of the area around Chinatown's Cornfields park a sense of certainty about future building plans."

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Published on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 in KPCC
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