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Boyle Heights

Developers and Proponents of New Wyvernwood Face Off at Special Forum Held by Council Member Huizar

3:20 PM PDT on September 21, 2012

City Council Member Jose Huizar, who represents Boyle Heights, East L.A. and parts of the Downtown, held a community meeting with the current residents of Wyvernwood Apartments to hear their concerns regarding the proposed redevelopment project to replace the current apartment with a higher-cost mixed-use housing development. In 2011, Huizar expressed concern with the project, but last night seemed more neutral while listening to the 200 residents in attendance.

The new Wyvernwood Apartments proposal is a $2 billion dollar project submitted by the real estate company Fifteen Group, to remodel the entire Boyle Heights apartment complex to mixed used housing development. The new plan offers opportunities for businesses to open up on bottom floors, with housing on higher up. The proposal includes plans to widen sidewalks and to make pedestrian access to and around the development easier. A final environmental report on the project is expected next month.

Representatives from City Planning and the Public Housing Department spoke to residents about some of the processes involved with the proposed plan and urged them to continue to stay involved in future meetings to voice their concerns or support. The next community meeting will be held in October after the FEIR is released and city planners present their recommendations.

Passions flared before and during the meeting as each side was given 30 minutes to voice their reasons for supporting or being against the renovation. Supporters included resident Guzman Guerra, who testified that many are tired of living with an infestation of bed bugs, rats and cockroaches in their apartments. Others added that with the changes in the complex, crime, drugs and gang activity would be reduced while living conditions improve. The currently-standing 80-year-old apartment complex suffers from outdated plumbing, electrical wiring and structure damage. Just last month, a sewer pipe broke, leaving a stench throughout the development.

But not everyone supports the project. Maria Hunter challenged supporters, saying that if residents were sanitary and hygienic, they wouldn’t have insect or rodent infestations. If Wyvernwood residents became more active in reporting drug and gang activity, holding the owners responsible for their apartments, renovation wouldn’t be needed. 

Others expressed their concerns over rent control issues that would displace long time residents if the renovations were to take place. In the proposed plan, only 15% of the apartments will be designated for low-income housing and that after 30 years, rent control laws would no longer be in affect. Residents were also angry that they paid for renovations six years ago that didn't fix the problems they were supposed to and would now be for nought with the new development.

In addition, many of those living in the current Wyvernwood Apartments argue that the new development just isn't necessary. They describe the apartment complex as a place where children play soccer on the weekends, while the enticing smell of carne asada fills the air. Their picture is markedly different than the cockroach infested, sewage-smelling, dilapidated apartments that proponents describe.

Fifteen Group states in their brochure that current tenants will be given one years notice before being relocated and can live in their apartments as construction goes on. Fifteen group also has a "down payment assistance" program for those who want to buy property after the new development.

Preservationists have fought the new development, noting the 80-year history of the existing apartments. However, the Draft Environmental Impact Report released in October of last year, finds preserving preserving the complex, and the current housing structures, is not feasible.

“After an extensive analysis, the report found that preserving and rehabilitating the building is not a feasible alternative. To be financially feasible, rents for renovated units would have to average $2,300 per unit, far more than current rental rates at Wyvernwood and else where in the community. Preservation would force residents to live off site as construction takes place, not allow for an expanding of the street grid, safer site design, greener layout and improvements in protection and disability access. Preservation would not resolve the ongoing infrastructure conflicts on the property, such as main water, storm water, and sewer lines that run directly beneath the buildings.”

Last night's meeting was not the last word in the debate. When final environmental documents are released, and more meetings are held, we'll keep readers informed.

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