As real estate markets start to recover, so do developer ambitions. Since 2008, Save L.A. Open Space has been working to save the last remaining unprotected open space along the 22-mile stretch of the Los Angeles River within the San Fernando Valley -- but profit motives may hamper environmental efforts.
The organization is hoping to transform Weddington Golf and Tennis, a privately-owned green space in Studio City, into a 16-acre Los Angeles River Natural Park. Before that happens however, the organization first has to build public support, gain funding, and fend off other competing offers for the property.
Weddington Golf and Tennis sits on one of the lowest points in the San Fernando Valley, says Alan Dymond, President of Save L.A. Open Space. By preserving the land's green space and adding water quality infrastructure, the city would divert at least 200 acres of surrounding urban runoff, that toxic mix of sludge that makes it way toward the Los Angeles River and eventually out into our oceans.
To help make their case, Save L.A. Open Space worked with Community Conservation Solutions on a vision plan and two technical feasibility studies, which included plans for a natural habitat park, an infiltration site, and cisterns. These developments would be incorporated to the existing tennis courts and driving range, allowing the community to still enjoy the facilities. Though the group has come a long way, their efforts might come to naught if current plans move forward.
Last week, Save L.A. Open Space learned that the property owners and their development partners have re-started the process with the city to turn this parcel into 200-unit senior residence condominium complex with six four-story buildings, 45 feet tall and with 635 parking spaces. Dymond shared that a city planner has been assigned to the project. Weddington Golf and Tennis is currently zoned agricultural. Owners are seeking a zone variance to be able to build residential units on the property.
Save L.A. Open Space's advocacy has been going on for more than ten years, as they continue to work with property owners to arrive at a suitable purchase price for the property. A community meeting several years ago attracted more than 400 interested parties, but the organization's biggest hurdle is unquestionably price. Owners have pegged the parcel's value at about $80 million. The Weddingtons, who own the property, came up with the figure when one acre of their property was sold to the city for $5 million. Dymond thinks the figure is overestimated. "That was at the height of the real estate market," he explains.
The economic downturn doesn't help matters much. "State bonds were frozen, the city, the state, the federal government all don't have money," says Dymond. "But we know there is money somewhere."
Save L.A. Open Space worked with Community Conservation Solutions to bridge a gap on the L.A. River Greenway Trail, which was awarded a $1.1 Million grant early this year. It is hoping similar fund sources would open up, especially given rising public interest for Los Angeles River in the past few years.
Save L.A. Open Space is asking the public to show their support for the project by signing a petition. The petition would be sent to public officials, appealing to preserve this open space. "Do you want open space or do you want condos?" asked Dymond, "I'd rather enjoy something green and beautiful in my backyard, rather than watch condos go up."
Images courtesy of Save L.A. Open Space