City of LA nixes 600-unit Gabay resi project on appeal

Decision calls out lack of affordable units in South Side project

Nov.November 19, 2019 09:33 PM
From left: Council President Herb Wesson, a rendering of District Square project, and developer Arman Gabay

A Los Angeles city body has nixed the almost 600-residential unit District Square project by developers Mark Gabay and Arman Gabay four months after approving it.

Citing a lack of affordable housing set asides – and noting federal bribery charges against one of the developers – the South Los Angeles Area Planning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to grant a project appeal from the Crenshaw Subway Coalition and Loretta Higgins Mueller Trust regarding a 577-unit Arlington Heights neighborhood project.

The vote by the four volunteer commissioners, whose role is to hear appeals of developments, kills a project the City Council and Planning Commission approved of in June, city officials confirmed after the meeting.

The granting of a project appeal is exceedingly rare, Faisal Roble, a principal city planner, said after the meeting. Roble could not immediately recall another instance of it happening.

Roble testified during the fractious public meeting that the city never scrutinized the project too closely, because the Gabay development team never applied for a zoning variance.

“We didn’t look at this because it didn’t ask for anything,” Roble said.

That city approach, however, may soon be changing, as city officials join community activists in criticizing developers who do not propose affordable housing set asides.

Council President Herb Wesson, whose 10th district includes the Gabay’s nixed project at Obama and Crenshaw, came out against the project in September. Wesson has even proposed a citywide program effectively requiring all new developments to have affordable housing set asides.

Wesson was not at the meeting, but his view carried the day as public speakers and even commissioners railed against market-rate developments. “The applicant has no sympathy for us,” commissioner Antoinette Anderson said to applause regarding the Gabay team. “I feel the applicant needs to have a heart.”

Todd Nelson, a lawyer at Armbruster Goldsmith & Delvac, represented the developer at the hearing, and declined to take questions after the meeting, including whether the Gabays may go back to the drawing board, or file a lawsuit against the city.

The Gabays, who often do business under West Hollywood-headquartered Charles Company, first proposed a mostly retail project on Crenshaw and Rodeo (subsequently named Obama) boulevards in 2010, but later switched gears to residential.

Damian Goodmon, who testified Tuesday on behalf of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, said that local community members at first didn’t give the project much thought, believing it would be mostly shops.

However, Arman Gabay, and his developments, gained more scrutiny last year when federal officials arrested Gabay on charges of bribing a Los Angeles County official. A trial is pending.

The bribery case took a backseat Tuesday to appellants demands for affordable housing, though allusions were made. “I don’t want to say too much,” Goodmon deadpanned at one point, “Because I know someone from the FBI is here,”

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