2017-05-19 / Community

Neighbors reject four-story proposal

Project would redevelop struggling Bellwood Center
By Melissa Simon


MIXED-USE—A proposal to redevelop the Bellwood Center at the corner of Alamo and Tapo streets includes the construction of a four-story apartment complex. Simi Valley Neighborhood Council No. 3 recommended the project for denial by the planning commission. 
Rendering courtesy of Architects Orange MIXED-USE—A proposal to redevelop the Bellwood Center at the corner of Alamo and Tapo streets includes the construction of a four-story apartment complex. Simi Valley Neighborhood Council No. 3 recommended the project for denial by the planning commission. Rendering courtesy of Architects Orange After receiving resounding opposition from neighbors last week, a developer’s plan to transform a struggling commercial plaza into a mixed-use development with a four-story apartment building will likely hit a roadblock when it goes before the planning commission next month.

Alexis Gevorgian, founder of Encino-based development company AMG & Associates— which is working with owners of the 7-acre Bellwood Center at the northeast corner of Tapo and Alamo streets—pitched its proposal at the May 11 Neighborhood Council No. 3 meeting.

AMG proposed tearing down most of the existing shopping plaza, which used to house Fresh & East Neighborhood Market and is now largely vacant, and replacing it with a four-story, 278-unit apartment complex. Of the total units, 83 would be designated affordable.

The developer also proposed remodeling the remaining 8,100 square feet of commercial space where Pizza Hut is currently located.

“We’re trying to develop something that will be marketable and make this city inclusive,” Gevorgian said at the meeting, responding to concerns that the affordable component would bring in low-income tenants. “Right now, this is a (mostly) vacant property with drugs and crime, so this is an opportunity to do something nice.”

The proposal, however, was shot down by the neighborhood council, which acts as an advisory board to the City Council and planning commission. The board unanimously voted to recommend the project for denial by the planning commission, which is tentatively slated to hear the proposal June 21. The City Council would have final approval.

Prior to casting his vote, board member Robert Sherman told the developer he was strongly opposed to the apartment complex.

Per the proposal, the ground floor of the complex would be a 611-space parking structure, while the living units would be located in the three stories above the ground floor. There would be 59 outside parking spots; 12 second-floor courtyards with play structures and seating; and a 2,600-square-foot clubhouse for tenants.

“This is unattractive and completely out of character for the neighborhood,” Sherman told Gevorgian. “It’s way too high, there’s not enough parking and I don’t see how we can accept this project even with modifications.”

‘Out of character’

About 20 residents spoke out against the project at the May 11 meeting, many taking issue with the height of the building, the density and the parking.

One man, while he applauded Gevorgian’s efforts to redevelop the center, said the project is “completely out of character.”

“Simi Valley’s success is based on single-family homes, while the San Fernando Valley’s failure is apartment buildings, which is what this is,” the man said during public comment. “If you had designed a mixed-use of for-sale condos and commercial, then maybe that would be fine. But this looks like Soviet apartment complexes.”

Another man also took aim at the building’s design, calling it a “massive, ugly beige monolith.”

Several other speakers complained about the lack of parking and the increase in traffic the project would likely bring to an already busy intersection.

“I live right next door to this and it’s a nightmare to me to have that many apartments stacked so close together,” one woman said. “We’re not bees and we aren’t meant to live that close together, especially when there’s going to be another 600 cars in the area—and that’s a conservative number.”

Ted Mackel, a Simi Valley resident and local real estate broker, said he was not fully opposed to the proposal.

“Chasing people away isn’t always the best idea. We’re going to get a project here, and as neighbors we need to figure out how to get the best project possible, because condos and townhomes aren’t always the solution,” Mackel said. “I think we’ve really got to look at this because something has to go on that corner and we’ve got to find a way to make it work.”

Gevorgian encouraged those opposed to the project to give it a chance.

“This isn’t the first time I’m hearing this kind of input, but the project has come a long way from where it started. Originally it was six stories and was much denser,” he told the crowd. “I know you’re all comparing it to the San Fernando Valley and there’s this fear of four stories, but this is a project the community can be proud of.”

Despite Gevorgian’s plea, the board members ultimately agreed to oppose the plan.

“I see a lot of good things in this proposal, but I also see problems,” board member Dave Mummert said.

“In the end, I’m with the neighbors, because I have questions and concerns, none of which can be resolved now.”

Fellow board member Mary Oaks said she came into the meeting with “an open mind.”

“But having heard everything, I think this beautiful project would be a better fit somewhere else,” she said.

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