Mixed reaction on Boyle Heights apartment complex redevelopment plan

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A plan to redevelop a major apartment complex in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles has some tenants upset.

The Wyvernwood Garden Apartments in Boyle Heights is part of a 70-acre site and includes nearly 1200 units.  Developer Fifteen Group wants to tear down the complex and replace it with a new, expanded apartment development and add 300,000 square feet of retail and office space.   

Some of the current tenants marched Wednesday, as part of the May Day demonstrations, to bring attention to what many said is their concern about higher rents when the new development is finished. 

"Take a look: we’re near Los Angeles, downtown," said Miguel Meneses, Jr., as he prepared to march from Wyvernwood  into downtown.  "Many luxurious condominiums are being built.  How many people could afford that?  How many immigrants have you seen in the luxurious condominiums?  None.  We have no papers and we have no place to go."

Meneses marched with his father, Miguel Meneses, Sr., who has lived in Wyvernwood for 24 years.  Both appreciate the kinship with neighbors and the open green space.  They said the apartment complex needs major repairs but they don't want it to be demolished. 

Built in the late 1930s, Wyvernwood is one of Los Angeles’ first garden-style apartment developments.  Miami-based developer Fifteen Group acquired the land in 1998.  The company has a $2 billion plan to demolish and replace the 1,187 units with 4,400 new ones and add 300,000 square feet of office and retail space on the site.

'This is not a project that was invented in a dark black box," said Steven Fink, Fifteen Group executive vice president from the company's Los Angeles office.  He said the development firm has held dozens of meetings with residents and gotten the blessings of many community leaders.

Options for the residents

The Fifteen Group’s has said that everyone who wants to stay in the new Wyvernwood apartments will have options - even during the demolition process. 

The demolition would happen in phases, allowing residents in units on one side of the complex to move temporarily into vacant units on another  side.  Once the new units are complete,  they would be allowed to move back into their new homes when the remodel is completed  - at the same rental rate. 

Fifteen Group said residents who want to leave Wyvernwood can take a $18,650 per unit relocation payout, and those who want to try to buy one of the new condominiums can put that same payout toward a down payment.

"No one’s getting kicked out and no one’s getting evicted," says Bedelid Guerrero, who has lived all of her 32 years at Wyvernwood and supports the project.  “Boyle Heights doesn’t have many homeowners, and if we’re still there, it’s because we like our area.  If we can become first time homeowners, I’m for it."

But the residents who oppose the project said they don’t trust Fifteen Group to honor its promises.

Redevelopment and density in Boyle Heights

Cal-State Los Angeles Professor David Diaz, an urban planning expert, calls the project “a classic case of density dumping.”  

Diaz said the social infrastrucure of Boyle Heights - schools, green space, and recreation facilities - are already overtaxed.  He said  the project will make it worse.  He also questions whether there will even be a demand for all the units the developer plans to build.    

“I’m skeptical of the concept that somehow Boyle Heights is all of a sudden this hot real estate market that people are going to flock to at the prices they’re projecting,” said Diaz “Oftentimes, things get overbuilt and then are vacant.”

The Los Angeles City Council must approve the plan and change zoning rules to allow for the density increase.  So far, Jose Huizar, the council member representing the area, is  not convinced.

“Boyle Heights is already one of the densest areas in the City of Los Angeles,” said Huizar. “My opposition to the Wyvernwood Project as proposed remains the same: I have serious concerns regarding the project’s density, historic preservation and community support.”

Fifteen Group is hoping to change Huizar's mind.  The firm said the project will create 10,000 construction jobs and $25 million dollars a year in tax revenue for Los Angeles.  It hopes to win approval by the end of the summer and begin construction a year later.

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