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Riverfront 'Creative Campus' Coming to Elysian Valley

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On a chilly Saturday morning, more than thirty people made their way over to Elysian Valley to get a look at a project that's got the community wondering what's in store for its future.

Developed by Terra River LLC, the Elysian Valley Riverfront Creative Campus looks to "create meaningful connections to the Los Angeles River" as its website prominently states.

The project will re-use two existing riverfront buildings and re-develop a vacant lot that was formerly used as an excavation equipment yard. It will also construct an approximately 40,000-square foot mixed-use building that consists of 40 live-work units arranged around a landscaped central courtyard; eight of the units will be reserved for low-income households. Approximately 15,500 square-foot of commercial space will be on the ground floor. Tax credits have enabled Terra River to offer discounted rents for non-profits, and river or community businesses.

Because of the Density Bonus incentives it received by reserving a portion for affordable housing, Terra River was able to increase its building height from 45 feet to 56 feet, which will be set back between 60 and 90 feet from the River. The development will have underground parking, three stories of studio units (about 700 square feet), and three-bedroom units (around 1,100 square feet) arranged in a U-shape. There will be 33 studios and seven three-bedroom units.

While taking attendees around the development renderings, Robert de Forest, co-founder of Terra River, points out that the company has taken pains to ensure this development is conducive to the neighborhood. "We're trying to build for the future but respect what's already here," he said.

Rendering courtesy of Killefer Flammang Architects
Rendering courtesy of Killefer Flammang Architects

Rather than build a more cost-effective ground level parking, Terra River invested in subterranean parking. It also designed the commercial space not to be an intimidating wall of retail, but porous blocks that open to the Allesandro Street and the River, peppered with greenery.

It also plans to eventually lower or remove the seven-foot concrete wall that separates the property from the Los Angeles river and open up the existing 1947 bow-truss building to the Los Angeles River bike path, so people can move freely from the path into the development. "This building is really just like a tent, supported by poles. We can open up this whole structure to allow the Los Angeles River through," explains de Forest.

Terra River is also working on a street-end park concept on Allesandro Street, which they hope would soften the transition between the development and the river. Landscaping also plays a large role in the project. In site plans, seating areas can be found alongside riparian landscaping. De Forest also says that a storm water recycling system with a giant cistern at the basement would be implemented at the project, which would help capture, treat and re-use the water instead of allowing urban runoff to flow through pipes and onto the river, which is what the current neighborhood infrastructure does.

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Terra River also plans to welcome the community by involving local labor in its construction. It's aiming to have 25 percent of work hours on the project performed by Elysian Valley residents or from other low-income River-adjacent communities. It also plans to host community events around or near the Campus and making improvements to public spaces nearby.

Despite these locally focused initiatives, the neighborhood continues to be wary of what a development this size means for Elysian Valley. RAC Design Build principal Rick Cortez says, "The development has good ideas, but I think it might the right development at the wrong spot."

The architect questioned whether the picturesque renderings actually presented the scale of the project versus its surroundings to the public that morning. He notes, "This is the longest street that's on a dead end in the neighborhood and that's going to be a 56-foot development right next to the river."

Rendering courtesy of Killefer Flammang Architectsg
Rendering courtesy of Killefer Flammang Architects

Though Cortez is still reserving his opinions for further discussion, local resident Robert Leyland-Monefeldt firmly believes this development is not for the neighborhood. "This is a single-family dwelling in streets that end in the Los Angeles river. We cannot handle the additional activity that they're bent on bringing here." Monefeldt fears the development's planned 70 parking slots (which already represents an increase from the 57 required by the city) would be inadequate for the additional trips to the area.

Leyland-Monefeldt points out that there is so much more to address before adding a development such this to Elysian Valley. Only the 603 or 96 bus serves the area and it involves a lengthy walk to the bus stop. He also cites that even simple groceries are difficult to walk to from the neighborhood. Leyland-Monefeldt feels it would be better to relocate this project to another neighborhood that's more accessible by public transit.
The almost 20-year area resident believes the best use for the property is to turn it into a Los Angeles River Urban Wildlife refuge that would be protected from further development. It would instead become an interpretative center that would educate the public about the Los Angeles River.

The Campus is currently still undergoing permitting process, but work might begin in the "next couple of months" says de Forest. Terra River plans to hold additional open houses to get the community's feedback.

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