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A Community Rises in a Once-Barren Cypress Park Rail Yard

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Photo: Carren Jao

Over its lifetime, Taylor Yard has filled many roles in the Los Angeles landscape. It was once home to Tongva Indians. It was part of the first and largest land grants made to Mexican and Spanish settlers, known as Rancho San Rafael. It was also a major hub for Southern Pacific Railroad. On a recent chilly Los Angeles day, local agencies, non-profits, and residents celebrated its latest incarnation as a mixed-use, -income, -generational community designed to promote walkability and sustainability.

"I'm proud of this project," said Councilmember Gil Cedillo, during the ceremonies earlier this month, "its design, quality of work. This is the product of former Councilmember Ed Reyes's vision. This kind of safe, sustainable community close to public transportation, environmentally safe and sound, is the imperative of America today."

While Cedillo's words may sound much too idealistic, the Taylor Yard Transit Village does incorporate several forward-looking features. The development includes a new transit stop for the Metro Rapid Bus Line, as well as access for local bus services traveling southbound. Before this, there were no convenient access points for the Metro Rapid Bus Lines, said Daniel Falcon, Senior Vice President of developer McCormack Baron Salazar. There are also long-term plans to provide rail access to Glendale, and even add local stops for rail service between Union Station and northern Los Angeles. A future rail stop location was even taken into consideration in the village's master plan.

The development is also meant to respond to the nearby Los Angeles River. While currently there's no direct access to the river (partly due to the presence of the railroad tracks), the proposed Taylor Yard pedestrian bridge will connect the community to the L.A. River bike and pedestrian path in Elysian Valley. Development of the nearby G2 Parcel will also bring the community closer to the river.

Photo: Carren Jao
Photo: Carren Jao

The Taylor Yard Transit Village is the umbrella name for the community of several subdivisions located along San Fernando Road in Cypress Park, next to the Rio de los Angeles State Park. Once a former rail facility known as Parcel C, the land has since been cleared of all the rail infrastructure and soil remediation.

A $15 million award from the State of California Infill Infrastructure Grant Program provided financing for the construction of much needed infrastructure embedded in the master plan for the community, such as electrical distribution, natural gas and water mains, streets, and sidewalks. Predevelopment financing and planning was provided by the Enterprise Foundation and New Economics for Women. More financing was provided by public investment from the City of Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department, the state of California HCD Transit Oriented Development Program, New Economics for Women, and allocations of Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits. JP Morgan Chase, JP Morgan, Enterprise Community Investment, and Hudson Housing Capital added private financing. Overall, about $100 million in investment from public and private funds went into this project.

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Construction on the 16-acre parcel began in 2013. When fully finished, it will contain up to 400 new homes and about 25,000 square feet of retail space, and 1.5 acres of green space. The project is a public private partnership between Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and McCormack Baron Salazar.

Transit Village is discretely subdivided between four developments:

  • Rio Vista Apartments is a $29.7-million certified LEED Gold for Homes development with 87 affordable rental homes, a fitness facility, and a subterranean parking garage. There are two one-bedroom apartments, 50 two-bedroom and 35 three-bedroom apartments reserved for households earning 60% or below the area median income. Construction finished fall 2014.
  • Taylor Yard Apartments is a $21.7-million certified LEED Gold for Homes project with 68 affordable rental homes for families. There are 18 one-bedroom, 18 two-bedroom, and 32 three-bedroom apartments reserved for affordable housing. Construction finished summer 2014.
  • Taylor Yard Senior Housing is a $33.9 million mixed use development with 108 affordable rental homes for seniors aged 62 and over, located over 8,500 square feet of ground floor retail and a subterranean parking garage. It plans to achieve LEED rating for multifamily-midrise.
  • River Park Homes consists of 95 duplex and detached homes from 1,884 to 2,003-square feet, and up to four bedrooms priced at market rate (starting $585,000). The first two phases of the project is scheduled to finish by 2015, with the rest of the homes built by 2016.

The Transit Village is just next door to a Rio de los Angeles State Park, a 40-acre regional park. The master plan won a LEED certification for Neighborhood Development because of underground storage tanks that harvest and filter rainwater to be re-used in the landscape, its proximity to transportation (even a possible future train stop), and lush natural landscaping.

Photo: Carren Jao
Photo: Carren Jao

No residents have moved into the River Park Homes, but residents of Taylor Yard Apartments expressed immense satisfaction at their present lodgings. Marco Molina, a resident, said in Spanish how thankful he was to live in the community. Aside from being in close proximity to the soccer fields in the park, Molina also expressed that the availability of these apartments as affordable housing is allowing his family to save up to purchase a home of their own.

Veronica and Crispin Carriera, who live in a three-bedroom apartment, are also very happy with their surroundings. Though the complex is quite close to the rail and every so often trains can be seen passing through, the Carrieras say they don't hear its noise with the windows closed.

The development sits at a gray area when it comes to air quality. The Air Resources Board (ARB) has developed the Air Quality and Land Use Handbook: A Community Health Perspective, which tries to guide developers on land use and toxic air contaminant sources. In its handbook, it indicates that "sensitive new land uses should be avoided within 1,000 feet of a major service and maintenance yard, and within one mile of a rail yard to consider citing limitations and mitigation approaches." The Village is about 3,000 feet from Metrolink's Central Maintainance Facility, but yet the question remains, how close is close enough?

Concerns about emissions don't seem to be much prevalent among residents and the developers, even though the LAUSD study reassessing the Metrolink Health Risk Assessment report indicates that the maximum concentration could be found just about a mile away, at the Cypress Park Recreation Area.

Falcon isn't worried. Falcon points out that while going through the CEQA process, the company did not turn up any environmental issues. Falcon points out that prevailing winds, which were studied during the environmental review process, showed that any particulates would be going from the ocean toward the San Gabriel Mountains, not staying in the community. He also says, the Metrolink's latest health study that shows declining health risks from harmful emissions is encouraging. "We felt we were safe based on the info is available, but we're still watching developments obviously."

Los Angeles County Board Supervisor Hilda Solis's comments echoed the sentiment of the day. "Though it's obvious that there's a lot more work to be done across the street, a project like this takes vision, commitment, and men and women that want to put brick and mortar together," she said. "I want to see more of these projects available to seniors, to people who want to be homebuyers."

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