For a second time in two months, the Land Use Committee of the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council backed off on a decision on Il Villaggio Toscano, a $100 million housing and retail project planned for Sepulveda and Ventura boulevards.
Although the developer had made further incremental changes to the project to try to obtain committee approval, those were not sufficient to overcome concerns over the project’s density, size, height and traffic impacts. At Thursday evening’s meeting at the Van Nuys / Sherman Oaks Senior Center, the proposed project was sent back for more work to a smaller, five-person subcommittee.
Committee member and SONC vice president Art Fields said he wanted the subgroup to meet with the developer “to ameliorate some of the concerns of the committee that all we’re getting is a traffic problem.”
No specific date was set for the next reconsideration.
The project’s latest iteration was presented Thursday evening by Paul Krueger representing developer M. David Paul. The newest version includes 399 units instead of the original 500, 7,000 square feet of retail versus the original 10,000 and 13,000 square feet of public space including a quarter-acre “public plaza” with pavers, a water feature and trees.
Krueger said the developer would also provide an enhanced streetscape along Sepulveda Boulevard leading to the project with street trees, planter boxes, sidewalk improvements, bike racks, bus shelters and street furniture to create a “gateway” to Sherman Oaks.
“These are ideas that [Land Use Committee member] Jeff Kalban came to us with and I think they are good ideas,” Krueger said.
Yet, those changes barely registered with the 35 speakers for and against the project, many of whom wore paper badges reading “Right for the Site” or “TOSCANO” with the last ‘O” a red circle with a diagonal through it, symbolizing “no.”
Opponents, as they had in the past, argued that the project is too large and would create further traffic problems in an already traffic-beleaguered intersection. Supporters said the project would bring economic benefits and would help relieve traffic congestion by prompting a change in commuting habits because of the walking-distance proximity of offices, entertainment and bus lines.
But at the end of nearly three hours of presentation, discussion and public comment, the Land Use Committee members appeared reluctant to recommend approval of all the zoning changes, Specific Plan amendments, density increases and height exemptions the project will require to go forward.
Instead, they began musing about further changes to the project, such as adding more commercial space to make it more of shopping attraction and thereby reduce anticpated morning traffic or adding more public space for recreational uses. Those ideas finally had the development team sputtering in frustration.
“I’ve changed those [architectural] drawings time after time after time,” said architect Wade Killefer. “If I put this park in, Jeff will come up with something else!”
Krueger argued that more retail would compete with the nearby Galleria and that residential developments typically don’t include open space.
“I’m a little concerned where all this is going,” he added.
In the end, with only minutes left before the 10 p.m. center closure, the committee referred the matter back to the subgroup for more discussion.
"I didn’t think they would vote on it tonight,” said project opponent April Blair, as she left the meeting. “The project is so big and complex and has so many elements.”