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L.A. River Improvement District Gets City Council Approval Amid Neighborhood Concerns

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Los Angeles River-adjacent property owners will soon have a clearer idea on how best to develop their land. Yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council approved two ordinances that would establish a general supplemental use district called a River Improvement Overlay District (RIO), and a more geographically specific Los Angeles River Improvement Overlay Zone (LA-RIO), which encompasses property within 2,500 feet (or half a mile) of the 32-mile Los Angeles River in the city's limits.

The ordinances aims to support the Los Angeles River Revitalization Master Plan with development regulations that would help open the river up to the public.

"The LA-RIO would encourage development on the L.A. River instead of turning our back to this important asset for the city of Los Angeles," said Councilmember Jose Huizar during the City Council meeting. The regulations would address such points as landscaping, screening and fencing, lighting, and orientation in new developments along the Los Angeles River.

Since KCET had reported on the ordinance in January, a number of changes have been incorporated into the final proposal: landscaping requirements were consolidated across all properties within the RIO; the condition to remove existing invasive plants was scrubbed; and the ordinance made clear the requirements would only be applicable to new projects. "It was basically streamlining the process and guidelines," says Claire Bowin, City Planner for Los Angeles.

Certain sections of the city within the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Plan (CASP) and NBC/Universal property were also removed from LA-RIO "because the RIO standards are already embedded in both these plans," explains Bowin.

Though residents of Elysian Valley, Sherman Oaks, and Tarzana have expressed qualified support for the ordinance, LA-RIO met with firm opposition from Atwater Village.

During the Planning and Land Use (PLUM) Committee meeting, held a day before City Council was set to vote, Andrea Ventura, an Atwater Village resident and attorney at law, pointed out, "The latest draft presents some serious problems with its vagueness and the discretion it provides. It doesn't delineate what river design guidelines are prior to passing the law. If you're passing a law and then setting the guidelines, how does anybody know if what they're going to do would be in violation of the law in the future?"

Atwater Village has asked to be removed from LA-RIO requirements. "We feel that a precedent has been set for removal from the LA-RIO as the NBC Universal property had been removed. Atwater Village asks to be treated the same way," said Alex Ventura of the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council. Doing so would allow the neighborhood to decide at a later date if they would prefer to be included.

In response, Bowin clarified that although development regulations that address landscaping and lighting have been laid out, more detailed River Design Guidelines would require another round of community involvement. "A separate outreach and public engagement process would still be needed in the development of additional design guidelines," pointed out Bowin during the PLUM meeting. "Additional guidelines won't be adopted tomorrow." The LA-RIO would still include Atwater Village.

Bowin added that sections of CASP and NBC/Universal were only removed because similar standards had already been included in the planning of both. Atwater Village's suspicions seem to be a result of unclear communication between the city and the neighborhood, despite a saga of meetings since 2008, theorized Bowin. She said the City will be working on a fact sheet that aims to separate truth from speculation.

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