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124-Unit Project at 4242 S. Crenshaw Approved by City Planning

The 124-unit mixed use project replacing the car wash at 4218-4248 S. Crenshaw Blvd. was just approved by the Planning Commission. It will next head to City Council for final approval. It is one of several changing the landscape along the corridor.

Last Thursday, the 124-unit mixed-use development (with 14 affordable units at the Very Low Income level) planned to replace the car wash and auto body at 4218-4248 S. Crenshaw Boulevard was approved by the city planning commission (CPC). The transit-oriented project, notable for supplying parking for just under half of the 124 units, will sit within a block of the Leimert Park Crenshaw Line station planned to open next year. The project will move on to the city council for final approval in the coming weeks.

The proposal by the Community Builders Group (CBG) was approved with almost no discussion. Just one stakeholder, Rashida Washington, called in to ask the CPC to consider what it meant to build yet another largely market-rate project in the historic Black community.

Washington cited the Cumulus tower, where the starting rents are over $3,100, and the larger Cumulus district that will include more housing, a Whole Foods, and retail as one of a number of developments reshaping both the landscape in South L.A. and the ability of its existing residents to stay there.

Though the Cumulus will likely have significant ripple effects over the long term along the the western edge of South L.A., where it is located, the current slate of projects recently completed or in the works along Crenshaw will have a much more immediate impact on the city's historic Black business corridor.

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The CBG project site at 4242 S. Crenshaw.

The CBG project at 4242 S. Crenshaw will join the 111-unit shipping container project (with 13 affordable units) next door at 4252, the 64-unit project slated to go in across the street at the Liquor Bank, and others at both ends of the corridor, including the 400-unit Crenshaw Crossing project at Exposition that is still making its way through the approvals process (and which may see up to half of the units reserved as affordable), the recently completed 75-unit project (with just 9 affordable units) at 61st and Crenshaw, the planned 65-unit project (with 10 affordable units) at 59th and Crenshaw, and the razing of Dorset Village's 200-plus rent-controlled units at Crenshaw and Slauson to make way for 782 units of largely market-rate housing (and not nearly enough affordable housing to replace the lost rent-controlled units).

The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, just one block up, is also expected to see big changes, should the sale of the site to LIVWRK co-founder Asher Abehsera be finalized [developer CIM abandoned its bid for the project this spring]. But it does not appear that any future plans will include the housing that the previous developer, Capri, had planned to build.

And just a few blocks to the south, an 8-parcel tract including housing and retail at 46th (specifically, 4605-4637 and the barbershop at 4707, seen below) was recently put on the market. The listing describes it as an excellent "opportunity for adaptive reuse, value-add, or redevelopment...for savvy investors who are aware of the tectonic shifts in capital investment occurring along this and nearby commercial corridors." The location of the property in an Opportunity Zone, the listing continues, means "additional potential tax benefits for both the investor and potential users of the existing spaces or as new development."

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Setting rents aside for a moment, of all these developments, the CBG project is the one that seems to be most responsive to the look and feel of the community.

Just a few weeks ago, for example, Axiom, the developer for the Liquor Bank site, had to go back to the Crenshaw Corridor Design Review Board with a revised proposal for its project. The original version moved the Elixir mural - a beloved community landmark painted by artist Patrick Henry Johnson in 2011 - high up off the street and set it facing southward. Community members complained it would no longer engage and watch over the street in the same way and that any new construction next door to it could potentially erase it from view.

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The mural, Elixir, will be repainted by Patrick Henry Johnson on the wall of the 64-unit structure replacing the Liquor Bank. That new development will sit slightly to the north of the 124-unit CBG development set to replace the car wash seen at left. Source: Google maps

The new renderings presented in August (seen below and found here) put the mural back on Crenshaw, though it appears Elixir will still be above street level and will have less headroom than she has now.

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The renderings for the CBG project, in contrast, suggest architect Stanley Saitowitz studied the layout of the neighborhood and took inspiration from the buildings seen around the community.

A number of the images from the renderings presented to the Crenshaw Corridor Design Review Board this past May detail how the proposed buildings mimic the "rhythm," scale, and elements found in the immediate area (below). The final set of buildings will stand five stories tall (containing 56 2-bedroom units, 48 1-bdrms, and 20 studios), have 6,000 square feet of space on the ground floor for retail, 100 bicycle parking spaces, and 60 vehicle parking spaces.

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The question for many in the community, however, is less about whether the buildings will blend in but whether they portend a demographic shift that could fundamentally change the corridor.

In 2014, Leimert Park Village stakeholders launched the 20/20 Vision Initiative - an effort to put Leimert Park on the map as an important cultural destination, both as a supportive gathering space/living lab for Black artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs and as a source for cutting-edge and creative work by those folks. Destination Crenshaw - the 1.3-mile-long open-air “People’s Museum” intended to honor Black stories, culture, and contributions while marking Crenshaw as an unapologetically Black space - broke ground earlier this year. And although the efforts of late rapper and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle to revitalize Crenshaw and Slauson were suddenly stalled when he was killed on March 31, 2019, his team and business partner David Gross still intend to go ahead with plans to rebuild The Marathon with affordable housing, retail, and a Hussle museum, while continuing to support Black enterprise and "buying back the block" efforts via the launch of an opportunity fund.

The new projects along the corridor, in contrast, are likely to attract a younger, well-to-do set of tenants who have the kinds of options for both physical and upward mobility that too many in communities like Crenshaw have historically been denied. In a community that has seen its Black population disproportionately harmed by the foreclosure crisis over a decade ago and subsequently squeezed out by rising rents and lack of opportunity, questions of whom new housing is for will continue to loom large. [See below for deeper dives into that issue.]

To see the full presentations on the project, see the staff presentation here and the developer's presentation here. For more on the history of the changing landscape along the corridor and the legacy of segregation, see below.

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